Today was one of those days.
One of those pull-the-covers-up days where I get tiny reminders of my mind’s former habits before I took back control through mindfulness. These moods feel oddly comforting, like the clothes I wore back in grade school even though they no longer fit. The shadows are sneaky that way.
I don’t jump out of bed when this happens and immediately start sun saluting on my yoga mat. I’m not that kind of yogini. It takes effort and helping hands to hoist me out of bed, coerce me to the meditation cushion, and sit.
On that cushion, with my eyes closed, I ease back into presence. That in this moment, I am physically well. I am loved by a little dog who tramples over my legs to curl in my lap. That, if nothing else, I am breathing.
The one thing you should never forget to do every day is be observant of the mind.
Note how I didn’t say “count your blessings” because that’s selective and dismissive, or “be present” because that’s often too vague and oversimplified to be actionable. But, observant! We can do a lot with that.
- Be observant as if you were scanning the ocean for whales breaching the surface, and every time you spot one, utter a little gasp of surprise.
- Be observant as if you were tying the shoelaces of 15 toddlers’ shoes so that none would trip and fall.
- Be observant as if you were stationed next to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, reminding thousands of people a day, who spend 15 seconds each staring at the painting, to move along.
When you bring attention to each moment, you remind yourself to be delighted by life. Life, that has become so routine and perhaps unpleasant at moments, now has a new filter. It might look like “Aden,” that new rose-colored filter on Instagram. (At least, mine does.) It might seem just a little bit more magical… or absurd.
When you add observation into your life, you discipline your mind to have fewer of “those days.” Not because you will away “those days,” but because you allow them in… and then see them out.
“Discipline” (as in, ‘You must discipline your mind!’) can seem like a harsh concept, especially for those of us who grew up attending Catholic grade school and had to stand on “The Wall” at recess when we got in trouble. We, who define our own success and follow paths independent of the status quo, have knee-jerk reactions to discipline and routine.
Rigidity and structure are the last things we want. And yet…
We probably go to bed and wake up around similar times. We probably eat similar meals from day to day. We probably have similar “This isn’t good enough” and “I’m so overwhelmed!” thoughts.
You have created a routine of your own, even if you’re averse to routine. And the thing is, all of us are averse to changing; it’s just that some of us have made it a habit so it doesn’t feel so difficult.
When things are difficult, however, how do you move through the resistance to adopt a mindfulness mindset? After all, the last thing you probably want to do is become more aware and observant of how difficult things are.
Let’s use my Meditation Resolution from January as an example. On day one, 96% of people opened the first email. By day 10, the open rate was down to 53% — which is admirable that more than 50% of people who signed up for the course actually kept interest.
But those were just emails in an inbox. Anybody can click to open an email. That, a mindful meditation habit does not make.
Here’s where it really gets interesting. Day one’s meditation was played 367 times — two more times than the amount of people who signed up for the Meditation Resolution.
By the final day? Only 81 plays.
What is most revealing about forming a mindfulness habit is that by day three, there were nearly 200 less plays than day one, which means that after three days in, almost half of the people stopped meditating.
I’m not revealing these statistics to shame anyone who took the course and didn’t complete it. This is simply proof of just how difficult it is to make and stick to new habits — especially when those habits involve changing the very neural pathways that keep you stuck.
If it’s so difficult to become mindful, why bother? On “those days” I ask myself this same question. And the answer is this: Because 100% of people want to end their suffering. This is a worthy cause to which to devote your life. To end your suffering and the suffering of others.
Being self-aware, observant and mindful is where the journey begins.
I nearly facepalmed when I flipped my wall calendar over today, March 1, to a new Thich Nhat Hanh quote:
“When we’re inspired by the desire to practice and transform our suffering, the mind of that moment is very beautiful. Sometimes we call it the mind of love. It’s because of love that we practice.”
A mind of love is a mind that’s in the moment. When you’re observant of your thoughts, you’re bringing much-needed time and attention to yourself. From this space, everything flows and radiates and transforms.
If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
So the next time you feel the spark to practice, act on it. This is where you must continually begin so that eventually, even if the spark burns out, you will practice anyway.
If you do this, “those days” will lessen their grip on your life.
Practice: Humble or Devotional Warrior I
Warrior I is a pose in which you must be very observant in order to keep yourself safe and in alignment. This variation allows you to bow to what is, honoring your body as it is today and every time you come to your mat. Be mindful of your joints, maintaining soft bends in your knees and a lightness in your neck as you surrender your upper body to gravity.
- Stand in Mountain Pose, Tadasana at the top of your mat. Exhale and step your left leg back about four feet and turn the toes outward 45 degrees. With both legs nearly straight, take your hands to your hips and rotate your right hip back and left hip forward. If you find your hips are not squaring over the front leg, try stepping your left foot farther to the left. Anchor into the outer edge of your left foot so as not to collapse the arch.
- On another exhale lunge into your right knee, tracking the knee toward the pinky toe side of the foot and directly over the ankle. If the knee moves past the ankle, inch your right foot forward. Protect your back knee by maintaining a slight bend in the joint.
- Inhale and reach your arms overhead. Then exhale and clasp your palms behind your back. Take another inhale and lift the sternum up to the ceiling, then exhale and bow to the inside of your front thigh. Relax your head to the ground.
- Breathe for six even inhalations and exhalations, continuing to square the hips and firm the low belly into the spine.
- Release your arms back to your hips and straighten your right leg. Turn the toes both to the left and bring your heels into alignment. Rest for a few breaths in this standing wide-legged pose before turning your left toes to the back of your mat and repeating the pose on the other side.