As students of mindfulness, we learn to practice a set of techniques, and notice, over time, the effects on both our interior and exterior lives. Little by little, the practices become a resource to turn to in our daily lives and activities.
Today, in this moment, in these troubled times, as we witness the pain and suffering in Ukraine, and around the world, it can be difficult to know what we can do to help and how mindfulness practice fits in. Just continuing your practice is alone, a significant contribution toward moving us foward. Let’s connect the dots between the practice of cultivating present-moment awareness and attending to the deep suffering in the world.
As we step into a mindfulness practice, we first learn how to begin with an intention to pay attention to the present moment with an attitude of kindness. As beautiful as that sounds, it can be difficult to conjure up when things are tough. However, step by step, in our mindfulness practice, we learn skills to help anchor our attention to the present moment, rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future, pointing our focus and observation to the present moment. These foundations skills enable us to create a sturdy foundation and the space necessary to open up the compassion for our own experiences so that we can strengthen our compassion toward others. We learn to turn toward difficult feelings and challenges, and rather than run from or react to them, we find the path to create space to investigate them so that we can respond more skillfully. With practice, that expansive inquiry can invite a deep stillness, bring us insights, and even help us identify solutions that we may not otherwise have seen.
“We have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid, to find the soft spot and stay with it… That’s true spiritual warriorship. That’s the true practice of peace.”–Pema Chodron-
Research shows that cultivating the ability to stay in the present moment, to allow space to investigate and feel through the moment, can also help us connect with the powerful positive emotion of awe. Why Awe? Awe opens up a sense that something is beyond our own understanding, yet is still true, like a beautiful moment in nature, the majesty of a mountain landscape or a piece of music that stops you in your tracks. According to Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., professor of psychology at UC Berkely, awe can have transformative effects not only on our own health and well-being but on the collective well-being also. Dr. Keltner has discovered through his research, that even momentary experiences of awe stimulate wonder and curiosity, that “bind us to social collectives and enable us to act in more collaborative ways that enable strong groups, thus improving our odds for survival.” Attending to the present moment creates the possibility for moments of awe.
Practicing mindfulness in these troubled times calls us to lean into skills that we might feel are just developing. Enter your practice gently, take it step by step, move slowly, and continue to find others whom you can share the experience. The practice itself helps us cultivate a sense of a collective and when we link our practice with others, it can inspire our abilities to envision big solutions to big challenges. We need each other to survive and thrive. Bringing a skillfull presence to the world, whether that means sitting with a friend or colleague in need, giving your full presence to a child or grandchild who wants to be seen and heard, offering community support, or contributing to international aid, will help.
“We are, indeed, often cruel and evil. Nobody can deny this. We gang up on each other, with words as well as deeds. But we are also capable of the most noble, generous and heroic behavior.”Jane Goodall, “Reason for Hope, A Spiritual Journey”
Feeling hope and awe in times like these, feels like a tall order on many days. Much like facing a mountain we find standing in our path, turning toward the difficulties require a gentle, consistent practice that can help us see how to respond. Anchoring our attention to the present moment with kindness, connecting with the breath, observing physical sensations, offering compassion to the tender places in our hearts, and connecting wtih the larger community all help build stamina to climb the mountain and along the way, embody its sense of unwavering stillness and groundedness in the face of everything.
“We are caught in an inescpable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”Dr. Martin Luther King
…. with gratitude for my students this fall and winter for their presence, their dedication to stepping into practice together and the amazing work they each do to make our world a better place for all. Namaste, Deb