Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Just breathe

The irony is not lost on me.

I am a communicator by trade. I spent years in corporate communication roles before striking out as a freelancer in 2000. My days are filled writing content intended to spur readers to think or do something in a particular way.

I don't know whether it's because of my background or in spite of it, but the most meaningful experience I've had in a long time is a recently completed workshop in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

In 27 hours, over nine weeks, I learned a new kind of communication: engaging with my inner self as I focus on paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. Those concepts -- paying attention, present moment, without judgment -- come hard to a hardened communicator.

My work involves frequent interviews, during which time I split my attention between listening and deciding which follow-on questions are necessary to draw out the information needed for whatever I'm writing. I have to make quick judgments about whether or not I've gotten the right level of detail, so I don't waste the interviewee's time or my own. I also work on deadline, so my mind is always racing into the future. The tension is to complete Steps A, B, C, and D so I can deliver final copy by a certain date.

All those productivity skills I pride myself on have led to an active mind that makes it hard for me to relax and, sometimes, to fall asleep. I've become a "human doing" instead of a human being. So when the MBSR program came to my yoga studio, led by someone deeply committed to his own mindfulness practice in both meditation and movement, I was among the first to sign up.

Most of what we did was to sit. And breathe. Yes, I know. We all sit. And we all breathe. But few of us pay attention, on purpose, to our breathing in the present moment. And that seemingly small change isn't so small after all. It makes a huge difference in the ability to focus the mind when it wanders, as mine does again and again and again.

I've been breathing my whole life, but I've done so on autopilot. Now, post-workshop, I'm paying attention. I'm taking time each day for mindful meditation, using the breath to find focus. I walk away from each session with a greater sense of peace and well-being. At night, I use mindfulness techniques to help me fall asleep. And the mind-body connection is evident, with lower blood pressure readings being a welcome outcome.

There's not much to it. Just sit. And breathe. But I find this simple practice to be both deeply satisfying and always available, allowing me to communicate better, with more clarity. And to be truly present for whatever arises in my life.

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