I just spent an enjoyable evening listening to a lecture on mindfulness. I don’t usually go for this type of thing. It’s all very trendy. How to laugh, love, get or stay married, raise your kids, be happy… in short, how to live. I think living is an important activity and I try my best to do it well, although I admit that at times even I could use a bit of advice. Nonetheless, I tend to be somewhat independent and try to think things out on my own. You could say I am already “mindful.”
I wasn’t quite sure what the evening would include but it was an interesting, creative endeavor by two talented women in the neighborhood who found a way to combine music and mindfulness as a tool to help us relax. Heaven knows we’re all in need of a little relaxation. And it was an opportunity to say hello to some of the neighbors. So I went.
Firstly, there was song. Music is a well-known, ancient therapy for touching the soul. It can stimulate or soothe, pacify or provoke, inspire or depress. Unlike physical experiences, it speaks directly to the soul. We – and our souls – were treated to pure, radiant, uplifting song from a neighbor, a former opera singer. She sounded like an uplifting version of Barbara Streisand. (We have a lot of hidden talent in our neighborhood!) Her songs spoke of bliss in God’s wonderful world. But how exactly are we mundane mortals to reach this state of bliss, especially if we don’t have her voice? The answer? Through the art of mindfulness.
Mindfulness, if you are not up to date, is the art of living in the now, of glorying in the moment without worrying about what comes next. In trusting and having faith. In rabbinic language, it’s called kavana. Are you standing before your Creator in prayer? Then concentrate on the enormity of the moment and pray! Don’t wonder if you turned off the oven (if you didn’t, you’ll smell it soon enough!). Don’t worry about catching the next bus (if you miss it, another one is on its way). Don’t make a mental note to call the dentist (you’ll get the appointment you are destined to get).
If you’re eating, say your bracha out loud, slowly. Concentrate. Thank God, the Creator of all your food, and think of all the people who worked to prepare or produce it. Then take a bite and chew. Slowly. Enjoy every morsel. Maybe that’s why our mothers always told us not to talk when we eat. We’re supposed to be savoring our food.
When waiting in line at the supermarket, or stuck in a traffic jam, why fidget and fume and allow your blood pressure to surge? Take a deep breath and relax instead. Look around. The people waiting with you are always interesting. Or close your eyes and think of something nice, like your grandchildren or the smell of the first winter rain. If you’re out walking in the park, concentrate on walking. Don’t talk on your phone; don’t even listen to a shiur. If you do two things at once, you’ll miss part of each – much of the shiur or much of the enjoyment and benefit of the walk. Just look at the flowers, smell the air, feel the breeze and look up at God’s magnificent sky. And feel your muscles moving easily and automatically in perfect coordination even without your telling them to do so. (If they don’t work that way, you need a good walk all the more!)
Whatever you are doing, do it mindfully – heart and soul – without allowing other things to intrude, with one exception: If you pass someone else walking, smile. A smile is always a healthful, happy thing. But whatever else you do, do it one thing at a time and give it your full attention – your kids, your husband, your laundry and your bank statement. Tell yourself this is what God wants me to be doing at this moment, so I’m going to do it well. Even if it’s hard; it gets easier with a little practice.
Otherwise, we are at the mercy of the thousands of thoughts continuously streaming through our minds every moment of the day. Even while we sleep. All this constant mental commotion is a primary source of headaches and anxiety. We manage to multi-task, but if we can banish all the noise and fury and just think one thought at a time, we function more efficiently and feel a lot better. And we’re happier and healthier. It’s a solid, proven, scientific fact. (Sorry. I can’t provide the source for that, but believe me anyway!)
I’m a List Lady. I keep a notebook in a drawer next to my bed and one in the kitchen next to the fridge. Anything that pops into my head is immediately scribbled in a book and erased from my brain. If it’s on paper, it will keep until I am ready to deal with it. Otherwise, it clutters up my mind and keeps nagging… I’m here. Don’t forget me. Have you taken care of me yet? My notebook is my savior. It saves my ideas, my sanity and my sleep. And it nourishes my soul as well.
Mindfulness is the point of connection between neshama/soul and neshima/breath. Both come from the same Hebrew source. Bodies are made of earth but breath is Divine – straight from our Father in Heaven. Every time we breathe, if only we remember, we reconnect to the Source of Life. And amazingly, breathing relaxes us, thus providing more energy to live more fully, gracefully and usefully. All we have to do is pause for a moment, stop fuming, fussing and fretting, and breathe! Slowly, fully, deeply, gratefully, mindfully. It may sound new-age, but it’s ancient wisdom. And it works!
We run faster and faster, trying to keep up, as the world keeps spinning faster yet, inevitably leaving us behind. I recently read about G5, the new generation of computers. Like Superman, they are “faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! Look! Up in the sky!”
When I look up at the sky, it’s not Superman flying faster than the speed of a “G5” connection that I hope to see. I’m looking for a different type of connection. But in order to “see” it, I have to slow down, breathe deeply, contemplate and consider. To live every moment with kavana. It’s the only way I can keep some measure of sanity and avoid cosmic chaos.
So if it’s an infusion of heavenly bliss you’re looking for, slow down, breathe and pay attention. Mindfully of course.
P.S. Thanks to Suzy and Sarah!