01 Jul Using Mindfulness To Stop Ruining Our Own Lives
- Ruth Lera, mindfulness meditation teacher, energy healer, writer and boreal forest loiterer
This past winter I had the good fortune to get to go snorkeling in pristine waters around the island of Maui.
During a particularly beautiful day, snorkeling through clue, crystal clear water, amidst an array of colorful fish, I noticed something really important. What I noticed was that wasn’t having a good time.
I wasn’t feeling happy, and I wasn’t feeling joyful. I wasn’t even enjoying myself, which was crazy because the coral was beautiful, the water felt amazing, the fish were lovely and my body felt good.
But still, even with all of the goodness all around me, I somehow wasn’t enjoying myself.
Why was that? I asked myself.
As I did a check-in with my internal self, I noticed that I wasn’t having a good time because my mind was replaying an unpleasant conversation from earlier that day.
My surroundings were amazing and pleasant, but my mind state was somewhere else which was less than pleasant than my actual surroundings.
Of course, this observation can seem like a negative thing. Noticing that our mind is dwelling on something we are angry or sad about seems like some sort of failure, but in fact, this type of noticing is the exact opposite.
It is actually mindfulness.
You see, noticing that our mind state is somewhere in the past or future is the best news we can have, because only through this noticing can we make a change.
As soon as I noticed that I was ruminating about a previous moment of my life, instead of experiencing the moment at hand, I had the opportunity to make a shift in how I was applying my attention.
I made a choice in that moment to look at the fish and I feel my breath moving in and out of the snorkel. I dropped into the abundance of the moment and savored the ocean water against my skin.
And Immediately I started to feel happy. I even began having fun.
It is incredible how easy it can be to improve our lives.
I didn’t have to buy anything, confront anybody, change my job or change my hair. I just had to notice where my attention was and move it to where I wanted it.
I wanted to see the beautiful colors of the fish. I wanted to feel the waves rushing above my back. I wanted to really be in the water.
And of course, in the telling of this situation, I am making the process of this shift of attention sound quite easy, but I am all too aware that it can be very difficult to shift our attention from a negative memory or a fear of the future to the satisfaction of the moment.
This is why we say that mindfulness is simple, but not easy.
The instructions for mindfulness are as clear as can be: “Notice where your attention is, and then move your attention to where you want it to be.”
Mindfulness is not complicated, but when you go to try it for yourself all types of things happen.
Your attention doesn’t want to move. Emotions and feelings arise. Self-criticism, fear, and worry tell you that you need to keep your attention where it is.
This is normal.
This is why mindfulness is a practice. We never get it right; we just always keep practicing.
And why should we practice mindfulness?
So we can stop ruining our own lives, of course.
Because there are always beautiful things around us, even if we aren’t snorkeling in clear ocean waves in Hawaii, there are people we love, animals who love us, trees, water and even our own face and heart.
We miss the beauty for the mess in our minds.
Our minds are always telling us there is a problem. They are constantly reminding us that we have made a mistake or that we aren’t good enough.
This can be a very troubling way to live, always listening to these criticizing messages from the mind. That is why we need to ask ourselves; Do we want to give our attention to the self-destructive thoughts, or do we want to notice the beauty?
The answer isn’t as easy as we might think for the simple reason that the thoughts are familiar. They are what we know, and they are often who we think we are.
But as I snorkeled alone, spying into the crevices of the coral reef, I knew I didn’t want to be the thoughts criticizing this person for not listening to me, for not responding kindly. Those thoughts, though familiar, were victim thoughts that made me feel bad.
I wanted to be the colorful fish. I wanted to be the flippers fluttering with the power of my strong legs.
So that is what I became.
In an instant, with the flick of the direction of my attention, I changed who I was—in that moment, simply by shifting where I put my attention.
Who do you want to become?
Ruth Lera is a mindfulness meditation teacher, energy healer, writer and boreal forest loiterer.
She is the creator and teacher of the online school The Self Healing Academy http://theselfhealingacademy.thinkific.com/ which offers courses designed to help students tap into their innate ability to heal themselves.