This morning I had the great pleasure of participating in something that has become a weekly ritual for me – Mindfulness Practice. I kind of stumbled upon this group through a friend in my town and, admittedly, agreed to go only because I thought there was a business opportunity. I was not at all thinking that it would have a personal impact for me. And, yes, I have said this before and then the piano fell on my head and I realized how blissfully ignorant I was.
The practice of mindfulness is something that has become more commonplace and mainstream in many aspects of life from mindful listening, mindful eating and now, even, mindful leadership. In fact, mindful leadership was my particular area of interest when I joined the group because I believed there were some interesting applications of the mindfulness practice to the work I do with developing leaders, particularly women.
Mindfulness, rooted in Buddhist practice, is considered to be an essential step in the pathway to enlightenment. In layman’s terms, it is about awareness. It has been adopted in the Western world as a meditative practice and a way to alleviate stress and anxiety. It has a much higher purpose, in my estimation, allowing us to be more present and intentional in everything we do and providing us with tools to allow us to be productive and joyful.
This morning, in our practice, we focused our attention on authenticity and looking at the masks we wear. Needless to say, I love this topic. The moment I realized we were going to be talking about authenticity, I started delighting in all of the beautiful riches that would emerge from the discussion. The group, today, was comprised of about a dozen women — all of which are in different places in their journey for spiritual enlightenment but all of which have beautiful perspectives and powerful stories. I surprised myself today because I expected to be spewing out all kinds of brilliant gems because I have spent significant time and mental energy exploring this topic of authenticity. I failed to remember the power of the practice and was quickly derailed after our first meditation because, despite my great efforts to control my thinking, the release of power that results from a meaningful meditation, allows our minds to wander where they need to at that moment.
Along with the relief that came from being able to relax my mind and body in the meditation came an extraordinary realization that I had, in fact, stopped breathing. I have just come off a very intense week of work, a busy weekend with family and friends and some unexpected (and surprisingly disruptive) turmoil. As a result of all that, I had stopped my practice of breathing and being in the moment. I was trying to control my thoughts, feelings and behaviors in order to, hopefully, impact outcomes. Silly, silly me. I realized that I was emotionally disconnecting from what was going on around me in order to regulate myself and control my emotions rather than allowing myself to experience what I was feeling and get comfortable with my feelings. A-ha! I wanted to roll back time and change my actions with this new sense of enlightenment about the root of my behaviors. But, of course, that is not possible. What was possible was to continue to think about the feelings I was experiencing throughout the past few days and understand how I force myself into a pattern of behavior to “protect” myself from my feelings. When we discussed the masks that we wear in different aspects of our lives, I recognized the mask I wear with myself to try to pretend that I don’t feel what I feel in order to cope and move forward. Sometimes it is just too hard to be uncomfortable and it hurts too much to feel pain and sadness. And, I would argue with myself that, in order to truly find peace, you need to breathe through those moments, embrace what you are feeling, own it, live it, suffer through it and trust that you will come out the other end and be ok.
I am more surprised than anyone at how dependent I have become on those moments when I can let myself go and just breathe, allowing my mind to travel wherever it needs to go. Yesterday, I was driving on the highway, in the car alone, and I noticed how much angst was taking place in my head. I noticed all the chaos and confusion that was swirling around inside me and I acknowledged that there was little I could do to control it, manage it or even address it. I needed to focus on the road to be present with my driving but the noise was screaming for attention. I could not give it the attention and, clearly, this morning, the chaos was ready to resurface. However, using the practice of breathing, I was able to allow it to have a rational and powerful voice rather than a chaotic, loud, screaming, whiny, shrill, thunderous scream. Very calmly and quietly I heard that I needed to pay attention to my breath because I was not allowing myself to feel. Ahhhhh……
There is more to tell on this. So much more. More to share on the topic of masks because it is a powerful topic, particularly for women, but we will save that for another day. For now, a big shout out to my fellow practitioners. Thanks for letting me facilitate a bit today. That was fun and meaningful! Thanks for sharing. Thanks for being in the moment with me. Thanks for inspiring me. And, hopefully, by sharing this and continuing to breathe, I will follow through on my intention to inspire others this week.