After plane, train, subway, and, finally, an Uber ride my husband Roger and I arrived at the remote 40 year-old Insight Meditation Society (IMS) retreat center in central Massachusetts. We would be staying for 9 days of mediation with 98 other individuals while adhering to “noble silence”. At first it was awkward, but soon was apparent that this was going to be an extraordinary experience. I found that the longer I remained silent, the more connected to the small still voice inside, and the more I appreciated all of life. That was two and one-half years ago, since then we’ve returned twice, each time for 9-day retreats.
IMS training focuses on two types of mediation; insight and loving-kindness. Insight-mediation, also called Vipassana, focuses on being aware in the moment without judgment. Loving-kindness meditation focuses on having an open heart and developing compassion. Both of these meditations work together in helping a person cultivate a greater sense of mindfulness and well-being. Researchers have found that for those that have a consistent and regular mindfulness practice, ruminating and stress levels decrease, memory and focus increase, emotional regulation is more controlled, more cognitive flexibility, greater relationship satisfaction, and many other benefits that are now being measured. There are, of course, many ways to achieve mindfulness, such as, yoga, tai chi, chi qong, or connecting to nature also help an individual to be in the present moment.
One benefit that I have experienced is a heightened awareness and intuition. With each of our retreats, I have found a greater clarity towards my daily life and near future goals. In the most recent retreat I felt clear about the importance of seeing myself clearly: conscious and unconscious aspects.
Excitingly, mindfulness and the new “positive psychology” have a lot of similarities. Most importantly neither advocate processing your emotions. Positive psychology focuses on an individual’s strengths and works towards helping a person become more empowered through positive affirmation, gratitude, and self-compassion. Mindfulness and positive psychology work well together because with mindfulness, one can see without judgment what they really think and feel about self and life, and then through self compassion and building strengths, a person can come into a healthier way of being much faster than processing old wounds.
My personal growth and healing had reached an impasse after many years of therapy and childhood focus. It wasn’t until I started doing gratitudes daily along with loving myself up when I felt afraid or anger that I felt I was moving forward. The real break through came for me about 15 years ago when I decided to stop trying to “fix” me and stopped seeing myself as broken. When we see ourselves as broken, we are affirming that we need to be fixed. The truth is that we are all precious! Everyone has suffered in life and, through love and compassion, we can stand strong in our empowered self. The more that we open our hearts to self and others, the more tolerance we will have. I have also found that when we appreciate all the wonderful things that we have in our life such as: family, friends, community, and health, we are more open to the joys of life.
One of the challenges that I see in our culture is our obsession with the need to be happy and complete. That goal in itself will cause us suffering. Life is potpourri of emotions, situations, people, and stories. It is impossible that we can be happy 24/7. It is more balanced and realistic to see life as it is and allow its many flavors to be in our life without judgment. I have been guilty of the idea that one day I will get “there”. I’m not sure where “there” is, but had subscribed to that goal-setting spirituality for many years. Through mindfulness, I have learned to see more richness and love in the moment. The more I feel that, the less I am worried about the future “there” that I spent so many years thinking about. What I have come to realize is that for me spirituality is really about kindness and how we love in life, and that there is no “there” to get to. Life is with us in each moment and we are given opportunities to love ourselves and others more deeply with each new moment.
I would love to hear how mindfulness has improved your life and well-being. Feel free to share with all of us. Wishing you a nourishing day!