When we first begin to practice being present, through Mindfulness and meditation, the first thing that usually happens is we notice how much we are not present. It can be a bit of a shock to realize how much of the time our minds are wandering off what is right in front of us. If we can get through the initial shock and have some compassion for ourselves and decide to do something about it, then we can use mindfulness practices to develop a strength in coming back to or arriving at the present moment.
Lately I have been focusing on Mindful Listening and communication. Mostly what I have been noticing is how often I am not listening, and yes it is a bit of a shock. Here is something I am learning from paying attention to this aspect of my life.
Last week I went to give a public talk at lecture series at a local university , called “Winter Wednesdays” . People who sign up for this five week series, get a light supper, and then can choose from six different topics. I was invited to join in for the supper before my talk . While waiting in line with my paper plate and plastic bowl, I listened. to the buzz around me Many people seemed to know each other and greeted each other enthusiastically. “Which one are you going to?” “Oh I can’t decide!” I really want to go to Ron’s…but I might go to Kaylas. “I went to her’s last year, it was wonderful!”.
Uh Oh, they are on a first name basis with the other presenters, and they have a track record, I thought. No one here knows me, and on the poster listing the talks, mine had no title and no mention of me, just a vague heading; “Nurturing our families”. The title for my talk was actually; “Managing Stress for the Whole Family.” My spirits started to sink, until I spotted one of the few people on campus that I know, and like very much. This cheered me. “Hey, I was hoping to see you!”, he said, “The lentil soup is delicious, have as much as you want. I wanted to warn you, there are some really big name people presenting some really hot topics , so you may not get many people in your group…and they didn’t promote it very well.”
The initial lift I felt on seeing him drained away, as he left and I shuffled through the line to get my humble bowl of soup and piece of bread. I found a seat in the midst of some of the lovely fresh faced elderly folks who made up the crowd.
” I’m Judy and I married a wise man.” The woman across from me announced. “This is my husband Frank Wiesman.” After repeating my name at the top of my lungs three or four times, (Judy was a bit hard of hearing and the buzz in the room was loud with excitement about the up coming lectures), I realized conversation would be impossible . I gave my attention to my soup and thought about how many times I had shown up to talk about Mindfulness, Stress and Meditation , not knowing if there was any interest, and not being paid either. But always reminding myself, that this was something I care deeply about, and usually feel in the end I have reached at least one person and perhaps even helped them.
Contrary to my friends prediction, my room filled up. I took them through my slides on stress physiology, how stress turns to illness and how we can mitigate this with Mind-Body practices. I led them through a Mindfulness meditation exercise and fielded some questions. When I packed up my computer at 8:45, PM I was tired but gratified and ready to face the thirty minute drive home. A woman I had noticed slip into the back row at 8:15 approached me, she looked ill, thin, and strained.
“I missed most of your talk, What is Mindfulness?” I took a deep breath, this had been the central theme of my whole talk, and I wanted to go home. Be present to this Beth, come on you can do this…
“Well, Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention to what is right in front of us, inside us and around us, in the present moment and with out judgment. It can lower stress, by helping us focus on what we can usually handle, the present moment, even when life feels overwhelming.”
“Oh I really need that, my mind is racing all over the place all the time. You mentioned something about how stress affects the GI track. Can you tell me more about that?” Deep breath.
“Well, you are kind of asking me to give you my whole talk again and it is late. I’ll be teaching an eight week series on this starting next week…” I gave her the information.
” Oh, well I’m sure it could help me but I really want to go this talk on Nature in our region…”
On the way home I reflected on how I had handled this and what had transpired between us. It struck me that we both wanted to be somewhere else. We both wanted to be on to the next thing, and this left me feeling empty and dissatisfied. I was also aware that with all the choices people faced that evening, a form of consumerism took over, the desire to “have it all” I saw for myself that in wanting it all, in wanting to get to the next thing, I don’t actually receive what is already available to me in the present moment. Sometimes we spend our time in this moment (or lecture) thinking about another moment (the lecture we didn’t attend) and missing the one we chose!
Perhaps you recognize this pattern in yourself as well. It is a deeply held belief that the future moment or the next activity holds something better than this very moment. Right now I am bringing awareness to this pattern in my life, knowing that awareness without judgment always brings a gentle but meaningful change. I’ll keep you posted as I continue to practice Mindful Listening. I’d love to hear how this is unfolding for you as well.