Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back

27 Feb

After my last post, I was inundated with a blizzard of emails and comments (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I really needed to get in a snow reference because it is February and there is NO SNOW anywhere in the Northeast, which is making me slightly crazy).  But I did get a lot of responses.  Slightly hurt responses from all of the friends and acquaintances who I did not ask about meditation, and who, it turns out, all do it.  They are serious, committed meditators, all of the friends and acquaintances I didn’t ask, practically Bodhisattvas.

Many of them referenced a man by the name of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  After the third “you should check out Jon Kabat-Zinn” comment, I went to Amazon and checked him out.

I discovered that Mr. Kabat-Zinn had a 2-CD-set that seemed tailor-made for me: Mindfulness for Beginners.  I ordered it.

When it arrived two days later, I eagerly read the back of the box – “What if you could profoundly change your life just by becoming more mindful of your breathing? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, you can.” – and popped the first CD into my computer.

Then listened as Mr. Kabat-Zinn expounded on the benefits of meditation, or mindfulness, as he calls it, pretty much interchangeably: through mindfulness, one can become a better person, learn to be more present in one’s own life, learn to experience joy…

“Great, “ I thought.  “Let’s do it.”

I listened to the first track, but there was no doing it.  Just talking about doing it.  I kept listening, through the second track and the third, waiting for an actual mindfulness exercise, but one was not forthcoming.  Gradually, I found myself focusing on the way Kabat-Zinn spoke rather than on what he was saying. He spoke deliberately, with many pauses, but there was something more…a slight accent, an odd emphasis on the “t” sound, especially at the end of words, that reminded me of someone.  I couldn’t quite place it.

After six tracks and a half an hour, I had my profound moment: Gabe Kotter.

Jon Kabat-Zinn sounded like Mr. Kotter, if Mr. Kotter had given up teaching the Sweathogs and moved to western Massachusetts and began speaking (pause) very slowly (pause) and deliberately (pause) about the benefits of (pause) mindfulness.

But being lectured to about the benefits of mindfulness, with no actual mindfulness practice in sight, by Mr. Kotter no less, wasn’t what I had signed on for.  I wanted to shout at the calm, deliberate, Kotter-like Kabat-Zinn, “enough already!” but that would have been a total mindfulness no-no.  Mindfulness hari-kari.  Instead, I ejected the CD from my computer, logged onto YogaGlo, and did a 10-minute breath meditation.

The next morning, after breakfast, I resolved to give Mr. Kotter-Kabat-Zinn’s second CD a try.  I pulled it out of the sleeve, and read the track titles.  They looked promising.  After a 37-second introduction, there was “Eating Meditation” followed by “Mindfulness of Breathing.”

Since I had just eaten, and since the eating meditation was seventeen and a half minutes and “Mindful Breathing” was a little under 15, I opted to skip over eating and go right to breathing.  “Mindful Breathing” couldn’t possibly reference “Eating Meditation,” could it?

The track began with the ding of a bell, to focus my mind.  Then Mr. Kabat-Zinn began, speaking slowly and deliberately: “Let’s bring the same (pause) quality of attention that we just brought to (pause) eating the raisin—“

Two thoughts flashed simultaneously in my mind:

One: It’s only the first sentence and you’re already referencing the f#@!ing eating meditation!

And, two: Seventeen and a half minutes on eating a raisin?  What have I gotten myself into?

But I soldiered on, trying to focus positively – mindfully – on Mr. Kabat-Zinn’s instructions, and trying not to take it personally that the first 52 seconds of “Mindful Breathing” was a revisiting of the raisin-eating exercise.

And in the end, when I let go of my irritation with the failed promises of the first CD and the 52 seconds about the raisin, and opted to focus on Kabat-Zinn’s words rather than the fact that he sounded like Gabe Kotter saying them, I found “Mindful Breathing” both accessible and useful.  Kabat-Zinn spoke – slowly and with pauses – about simply focusing attention on the breath.  Mindfulness, he explained, is not about doing anything; it is about being, and being aware of being.  So for nearly fourteen minutes, I sat and tried to focus my awareness on my breathing, not judging my breath or analyzing it or trying to control it, but simply experiencing it.  My mind strayed, as Kabat-Zinn assured me it would, but I brought it back, non-judgmentally, in his words, to my breath.  I sat.  I breathed.  In and out.  I paid attention.

It wasn’t much.  It was all that mattered.

Now I’m off to buy a box of raisins.


9 Responses to “Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back”

  1. Sally Prangley February 27, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    I have tried yoga a couple of times, as in actually taken classes that met weekly for a number of weeks. I found it impossible to empty my mind during my first set of classes. I found that time the perfect time to make my mental to-do list, and listen for people who snored during this profoundly quiet time in the yoga class. I also found the nose-blowing practice (by alternating your thumb and little finger on the left and right nostrils) to clarify breathing (???) quite inexplicable, and was glad for the box of kleenex provided by the instructor. So maybe trying yoga in a group class might be in your future, Cathleen. It certainly adds other dimensions to the practice, not all of them pleasant (like being told to partner with a total sweaty stranger to give them a back rub).

    I have found that for me, solitary running does the trick. It burns calories, keeps me relatively fit, and I actually can voluntarily empty my mind and think of nothing but breathing at times, and also work through problems and make to-do lists in my head, all with my approval.

    Maybe I’m too independent for yoga, and maybe you are, too?

    • Cathleen Barnhart February 27, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      One of the realizations I’ve had this month – which I haven’t yet had a chance to cop to in my posts – is that I have been practicing various mindfulness activities for quite some time now, primarily through yoga. I am currently taking a weekly yoga class with the woman who is also my singing teacher, and the class is much more about being present and aware and in touch with my body than it is about “exercise.” But even though I know how, theoretically, to be mindful, I still have a hard time actually doing (being) it.

  2. Dhru Silencieux February 27, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    LOL! Thanks for the HIGHlarious post! Looking forward to reading about your seventeen minutes with the raisin…

  3. Louis Greenzweig February 27, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    I came to the realization that my training as a shop teacher made me completely aware of my surrounding (safety first, of course) and with that knowledge I took it to a much greater level of understanding. When I walk down a street I observe the home designs, landscaping, electrical wires, street pavement, noise, etc. When I hear a car’s engine I can visually see all the moving parts in that engine. My wife says I notice things that nobody else notices or cares about! My most relaxing activity is golf and when I play I can totally absorb myself in the game and be friendly in a foursome. I prefer to walk when I play golf and perhaps that is why I can feel the way I do. I have tried several forms of meditation but none comes close to golf. Good luck with the raisins!

    • Cathleen Barnhart February 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

      My friend Sally says running is when she is most “mindful.” For you, Louis, it’s golf. I do a step class once a week that I think is the place/time when I am most in the moment. But still I need to work on being present in the now. I don’t have your ability to notice the world around me; too much in my head. But I’m working on it!

  4. O. Leonard February 28, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    I’m looking for a box of raisins. I think I need to try this, but I don’t know why. Oh, wait, I don’t have time, I have an appointment. I’m already hearing Mr. Kotter and I don’t even have the CDs. Anyway, I don’t meditate, I daydream.


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    […] Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back (forwardfromfifty.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Wise Words from Jon Kabat-Zinn « Namaste Consulting Inc. - May 18, 2012

    […] Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back (forwardfromfifty.wordpress.com) […]

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