One of the benefits of living here at Franke Tobey Jones is the opportunity to be informed and entertained during sessions of Senior University. Last week we heard from an Occupational Therapist about Mindfulness and Mental Health. According to studies, mindfulness can help with many of the mental risk factors that affect us as older adults.
You are probably saying to yourself “Just what is Mindfulness, anyway?”
In the simplest definition, Mindfulness is slowing down and noticing what is going on around and within you.
- increases gray matter,
- improves psychological functions such as attention, compassion and empathy,
- lifts the mood,
- decreases stress chemicals in the body,
- strengthens the immune system,
- and helps with a variety of medical conditions including cardiovascular disease, asthma, and type II diabetes, to name a few.
Mindfulness really can be practiced by observing your breath, your breathing rate, and your thoughts.
You may have heard it called mindfulness, meditation, centering prayer, or – as Sue Monk likes to call it – Sacred Dawdling.
My blogger friend, Caroline, says, “Dawdling as sacred? Really?
“It is sacred, because it’s an act of faith. To stop work, be unproductive, and simply look out into the day…this requires trust.”
You may remember I mentioned my quiet time that I take care to observe every morning after my shower when I sit on the side of my bed, look out the window at the trees in the copse behind the fence, and let my mind drift.
“For a time, I forget the forces and the shoulds and should nots. For a time, I just…am. I’m just me.”
After 15 or 20 minutes of just sitting there, I’m ready to get on with my day. You may be saying, “but I don’t have TIME for this.” I feel like I don’t have time, not to meditate.
Another blogger friend, Esther, has been going through a bad patch recently. She reported that her BFF had recently told her “Meditate, Esther – do meditate.” Her friend’s heart cried out GET THAT FRIEND OF YOURS SOME PEACE! She needs it.
Some days it takes what seems like FOREVER to quiet the monkey brain chatter going on in my head. I often wake up with a hymn in my head – an earworm, if you will. I don’t usually sing it out loud, but I sing it all the way through while I sit there. I will also mentally go through all the moves of the Tai Chi form we are currently working on.
Caroline says, “When I sit still like this, there are two forces battling within me.
- One says, ‘This is important. This is what you need right now. Stillness is going to bring you farther than constant motion ever could.’
- The other says, ‘What are you doing? Get off your butt! Be productive! Contribute to society!'”
If all else fails, I fall back on one or more visualization techniques I learned in centering prayer. I particularly like the image of floating down a river lying in a canoe with dappled shade passing over my closed eyes. If a thought comes into my head, I just toss it away. Another favorite image is of the surf, endlessly rolling in, and receding, and I breathe in stillness and breathe out worry with the surf, as the waves come in and go out.
Esther asked, “How much energy do I actually spend, worrying? How much energy do I actually spend, rushing? How much more efficient would my life be, if I were always to rest, before I rush?”
Every day we meet the critical, worried part of ourselves that judges our ‘Performance” minute by minute.
“This is an act of rebellion: to endure time, to quiet your hands, to live peace instead of war. It’s harder than it sounds. But sometimes I think this is the simplest and greatest call there is.”
With practice in the art of sacred dawdling – just 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there – we will be better equipped to understand the value of Einstein’s words,
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons