Are you a blog subscriber who received four emails from me today? My apologies! I’m catching up on the A-to-Z Challenge. I had to take a little break, but I’m back at it and ready to finish the month strong.

I am a meditation failure.

I have been trying and failing at meditation for probably 20 years.

I know all of the tricks to refocusing your mind, using mantras, or focusing on certain images. My buzzy bee brain flits from one thought to the next before my mind even finishes thinking, “ok, focus on this …”

But quiet time is significantly important to resting your mind and your body. I have the body resting part down pat; it’s the mind resting that evades me.

15 years ago, a therapist introduced me to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and I forever gave up on meditation. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. I do occasionally still try to clear my mind, but I stopped pressuring myself to learn how to meditate. I fell in love with MBSR and haven’t looked back.

MBSR is a technique – a type of meditation (although my failing ass won’t ever call it that) – that makes you aware of the moment and fully present. (Whereas I see meditation as making you blank to the moment – blissfully separate and calm, without a need for attachment to the present.) Wikipedia gives this definition:

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. Developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, yoga and exploration of patterns of behaviour, thinking, feeling and action. Mindfulness can be understood as the non-judgmental acceptance and investigation of present experience, including body sensations, internal mental states, thoughts, emotions, impulses and memories, in order to reduce suffering or distress and to increase well-being. Mindfulness meditation is a method by which attention skills are cultivated, emotional regulation is developed, and rumination and worry are significantly reduced. During the past decades, mindfulness meditation has been the subject of more controlled clinical research, which suggests its potential beneficial effects for mental health, as well as physical health. While MBSR has its roots in Buddhist wisdom teachings, the program itself is secular. The MBSR program is described in detail in Kabat-Zinn’s 1990 book Full Catastrophe Living.

While I have not yet experienced a full 8-week course, my therapist at the time was a devotee to Kabat-Zinn. She walked me through a number of exercises and gave me homework to practice. I read Kabat-Zinn’s book and followed some videos online. Soon, I was able to incorporate mindfulness into my daily life.

This skill has served me very well and it is my #1 tool for calming anxiety, racing thoughts, or other distress. I can exercise a mindfulness routine in a matter of seconds and feel calmer, more centered, and more clear-headed. Sometimes, it even makes me feel more awake. I will use it when starting a new project, as a way to downshift from one and clear my head for the next. I’ll use it if I’m in a moment of misunderstanding with someone, feeling my blood start to boil (and possibly entering a fight or flight response). It will slow my heart rate, soothe my mind, and get me back into dealing with the facts instead of uncontrolled emotion.

For me, mindfulness can be summarized in action as focusing so intently on something that all other parts of your world are momentarily shut out. I will do it with intention – not as an escape from a moment, but as an opportunity to recenter myself into the moment. I picture it like grabbing a hold of my brain and saying, “stay put. Here. Right here.”

I do it at my desk frequently. In that case, I will walk myself through acknowledging all of my body: my feet on the floor, my butt in the chair, how I can feel the chair pressing against the back of my legs, straightening my spine to press into the chair back, and how my wrists rest on the table. I would focus intently on a key on the computer or the woodgrain in my desk. All of the while, I will walk myself through everything I see and hear without moving a muscle: the cars outside, the hum of the HVAC, the smell of my flowers, the feel of the keys under my fingers. After a few moments, I will remind myself to breathe properly, to sit up straight and be comfortable in my chair, and that I am safe and all is right with the world.

I can change my attitude in these few seconds or rejuvenate my mind.

As I mentioned yesterday, gardening is a favorite meditation for me. When gardening, I can mindfully focus on the tiniest things in front of me, acknowledging all of the ways my senses are engaged, and truly relishing the moments. I don’t even have to work at doing a mindfulness exercise when I garden. Gardening IS a mindfulness exercise for me.

I would highly recommend to anyone to try MBSR. It’s been a total game-changer for me!

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