I took my first mindfulness class a few years ago. Truth be told, I knew nothing about mindfulness when I signed up.
Though serendipity led me to attend a 6-week introduction class, I was unaware that I was being cosmically led down a path that was going to change my life. But I showed up. That really is the biggest part of how we make change in our life; by simply showing up. Opportunities are around us constantly and either we are too distracted, too blind or unaware to notice them, but when we do, and when we show up, it is usually because we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
I digress. So, here I am in this intro class with a very uninspiring, soft spoken teacher who was very unclear in her description of mindfulness was or how to integrate it into our lives; after doing introductions, she simply led us in a 15 minute meditation. I was utterly confused, bewildered, restless, and challenged, and still wasn’t clear on what mindfulness was.
I knew (or so I believed at the time) that I wasn’t the “type” that meditated; I had all the assumptions, preconceptions, misconceptions and judgments that come along with starting a meditation practice. (You know the excuses – “I have no time for this; I don’t know how to do this; I think too much; My mind wanders; I’d rather still be in bed at this hour of the morning…”) But those 15 minutes dragged on longer than any other 15 minutes I’d ever experienced.
After the 6-week course was over, still fuzzy on what mindfulness was, the only thing I knew for certain was that something had shifted in me. I couldn’t formulate a clear explanation to anyone else who asked (in fact my brother had to look it up online because he thought I was part of some new cult!) but I did begin to realize that I had lived almost my whole life completely unaware. I knew that I had numerous moments of asking myself, “How did I get here? I don’t remember making the conscious choice that got me here!”
And I soon learned that once you begin to be aware, intentional, and conscious, you can’t go back. It’s the good news and bad news of practicing awareness!
I still naively believed that I wasn’t one of “those” that meditated. (Wow, I was really judgmental and uninformed!) However, I wanted to learn how to slow down, be aware of my breath and my surroundings, and take time to observe and let go whatever was arising in the moment. I had always been a worrier – thanks mom! – and always experienced anxiety and sleeplessness. I knew that mindfulness could help with those negative habits and patterns and I was ready to let them go.
And so, not knowing what I was doing, I started my mindfulness practice in my car. I often, like many of us, drive from Point A to Point B, and don’t remember having gotten there. Yes, that unconscious drive parallels our life. And so, I made a shift. It seemed small at the time, but who says small shifts can’t lead to big changes?
Rather than viewing my commute as annoying, frustrating or a waste of time, I chose to shift my mindset to seeing my alone time in my car as a gift of time.
After dropping my kids off at school, I usually ramped up the radio, sang loudly and unknowingly drove gripping the steering wheel. Or I would fill the space by picking up my phone and talking to whomever was available to answer. Both of these usual habits were ways of distracting me from embracing the alone time (being alone was not something that valued in my childhood); apparently I always looked for ways to avoid it, even in my car.
Then I realized that when I was in my car alone, it was quiet. No one (namely, my two daughters) was talking to me, no one was asking anything of me, and the only place I could be was exactly where I was. Even if I was stuck in traffic, there was nothing I could do about it. Stressing about it would not get me there any sooner; it’d only get me there more stressed out.
As I began my mindfulness practice, I simply breathed. I put down my phone. I turned off the radio. I just breathed. I became aware at just how beautiful the hillside and trees that flanked the freeway were. I noticed flowers growing, the cows grazing and the clouds in the bright blue sky. I actually became present for my drive.
And then I began to notice how calm and peaceful I felt whenever I arrived at my destination. It turns out the music, phone calls and traffic had actually amped me making me feel tenser. I was amazed at how peaceful my day started, by simply choosing to see my commute as an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
I realized I didn’t need to sit on a cushion to be meditating. It was possible to be present and be aware, even while in my car. I didn’t need to have my eyes closed to learn how to connect with my breath and observe my thought patterns. As I began to embrace the natural gifts of time my day presented me, such as my commute, standing in line at the store, or waiting to pick up my kids, I found myself practicing mindfulness everywhere.
You don’t need a formal setting to be mindful. You don’t need a cushion to breathe and observe what is arising. And you certainly don’t need to add mindfulness to your to-do list. It is a practice of embodied presence.
And so, my practice began in my car.
When working with my clients, I always recommend to start by meeting yourself where you are at. No need to make change that is drastic or overwhelming. So, any time you get into your car, put down the phone, turn off the radio, just breathe and be present. But remember to keep your eyes open!
That is my every day mindfulness.