Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    It Isn't Always Pretty

    By Jennifer Egert, Ph.D. (after her retreat!)

    Two weeks ago, I came back from a 9-day intensive training in MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, a program begun by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the UMass Medical School in Worcester (link). And yes, ‘intensive’ is the right word! The first half was an immersion into the practice of mindfulness, working in a group of 108 participants, including two teachers, on mindful breathing, gentle yoga, mindful walking, mindful communicating, mindful eating… The second half was immersion into professional training, and what it is to teach MBSR.

    There is something about putting oneself in a situation of facing oneself 24 hours a day, 9 days in a row that yields invaluable insights but also can feel pretty unpeeled and raw. And returning in that state to the city with the sensory assault of horns blaring, the speed of the cars going by, the rattling of the trains and crowds sharing the sidewalk can be jarring. For me, it also raises the question as to why I have chosen to live in this kind of high intensity environment. Of course I know there are amazing aspects to city life. I wouldn’t be here if there weren’t. But it struck me hard this time.

    Maybe I had some idea that after 9 days, I would have achieved some amazing state, that I would have “arrived” someplace… not really sure where that place is. But I just arrived back home in NY, back to work, facing the pile of mail and messages. Sometimes people talk about mindfulness practice as if it were some "blissed-out state” or the ultimate in “positive thinking.” A puffy cloud to cradle weary heads and bodies. I think these ideas are what often bring people to meditation or yoga or other contemplative paths. It is what brought me initially. But as you practice, pretty soon you learn. That’s not it.

    At this moment, it seems to me that mindfulness is about facing things as they are with intention and clarity and an attitude of curiosity even if it is a taxi driver leaning hard on his horn because you are not mowing down the woman with the triple-wide stroller crossing the street (who, by the way, has the crossing light to her advantage). It is about facing our inevitable reactivity, confronting the sometimes tough stuff and uncovering our own unique truth... until it changes… as it always does… and then going with it.

    In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s (and Zorba the Greek’s) words, it is about embracing the “full catastrophe” of it all… the joy, the suffering, the 100+ emails, the frustration of the line at Trader Joe’s after work, the early signs of spring, a really great joke, the scary potential medical results, the new love blossoming, the argument from the morning, the washing of dishes, the old recipe, a great first chapter of a new book, the sneeze, the cold on your skin when you walk out the door in the morning, and the simple feeling of being tired at the end of a long day. It is all life.

    It isn’t always pretty, but hey, it is yours. Live it.

    Reader Comments (4)

    I loved this blog post, and Dr. Egert's note about the myth of meditation practice: that it's a path to some "other," more blissed-out place.

    For me, meditation practice has always been about waking up and becoming aware of "the full catastrophe" of it all, or, awakening from my dream-state and really looking at things more closely, as they really are. It's a raw state, for sure, and can often be extremely uncomfortable, but it's definitely more alive and awake.

    Shell Fischer

    March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShell Fischer

    thanks for your comments shell. i find that although i 'know' this reality, i am constantly reminding myself of this fact. there is such a strong wish to reach some blissful state! so now, i just notice THAT wish, over, and over and over again!

    March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

    Thanks for this realistic yet inspiring taste of mindfulness. I've done some retreats over the years and identify with your description of coming home, realizing things are 'as they are' and that the journey continues, in some ways the same and yet in others things are profoundly different. I like how you began your summary of mindfulness "At this moment…" Indeed, I find that my perspective of mindfulness changes, right along with the changing nature of everything else.

    April 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig Mollins

    thank you craig, for your thoughtful comments. yes, i too find that part hard. realizing that "this is it." nothing magical, just living your life, and the perspective always changes, right? i think it is important to share this more 'ordinary' aspects of practice. at least for me it tends to be most of my experience!

    with metta,

    April 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

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