Riding the Waves: Finding My Path to Mindfulness

by Pam Harmon, Teacher at The Madeleine School, Portland, OR

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I am one of those people that doesn’t like to stop and just be still or breathe, I go and go. Yes, because I’m busy but also because slowing down gives me time to think about my life and this can be quite painful. I know better, but sometimes it feels easier to avoid than to deal with what’s in my heart. I also feel that if I go too deep into looking at myself, it may take too long to come out of the pain.

I wanted more happiness and peace in my life. I realized that I needed to do something but I still didn’t know how to begin. I had been hearing and reading about mindfulness, kind of skirting the edges of it. I was ready to wade in a bit further and the Peace in Schools Mindfulness for Youth-Serving Professionals workshop looked like it might be a good opportunity to go a bit deeper.

The two-day workshop turned out to be very inspirational for me and the experience really helped me to take the first steps in my journey. I started incorporating mindfulness into my life the day I came home from the workshop. I decided that I wanted to meditate and having to do this as homework for the workshop was a great motivator. I began to search for some comfy pillows that would allow me to sit in a mindful pose. I downloaded a couple of mindfulness apps so I could listen to background sounds and try to tune out everyday noises. I thought in having a little ritual, it would be easier for me to commit to a routine. Then I began to think of the time of day that would be best. I thought that if I could do it at the same time each day then I could be more consistent.

I am one of those people that doesn’t like to stop and just be still or breathe, I go and go. Yes, because I’m busy but also because slowing down gives me time to think about my life and this can be quite painful.

Of course this was easier to think about than to actually carry out. I had figured that I could meditate during my daughter’s nap and that worked out for a couple of days. The first day my cat decided to try it with me and crawled onto my lap. I was able to keep bringing my attention back to my breathing even as she was crawling over my legs. I had figured this might be part of my routine with two cats and two dogs. My cat finally settled in and it felt so relaxing to have her be peaceful with me for just a few minutes. The third day my daughter would not settle down and I was too distracted since I watch her on a video monitor for health reasons.

Then our caregiver gave her notice and that sent me into panic mode. It has never been an easy process to find care for my daughter. She has disabilities and this poses an additional problem in finding someone to care for her. I had to give myself a couple days break from meditating. I was just way too distracted, even though that’s probably what I needed most. My mind was racing and I couldn’t think of anything else.

I did notice that even though I wasn’t meditating, I was using some of the other techniques we learned in the workshop for what to do when faced with emotions. I tried not to instantly react. I was purposefully trying to disconnect from emotions as they rose within me. It came much easier than I had anticipated. I noticed it, then named it and purposefully used the words “anger is here,” or “frustration is here,” or “abandonment is here.” These were all very familiar emotions, but it felt a little different to see them as separate from me.

By using mindfulness I was able to respond rather than react...my emotions didn’t bring me down so far. I didn’t feel crushed by them.

I was so glad my co-teacher had also attended the workshop, so that I had someone to practice with. When visiting with her in her classroom, a frustrating work issue came up. I remembered to take a moment. I looked away and said, “irritation is here.” She got it and I felt so much more comfortable knowing that she knew what I was doing. I don’t think I would have done that with someone else.

Another incident with my ex-husband brought out a very emotional reaction in me. I was struggling to try to breathe through my tears. Then I was just trying to steady my breath. I probably would have reacted and lashed out with angry words if I hadn’t been so focused on my breathing. I also gave myself some physical space to calm my breathing before I spoke. I realize that I sometimes react in anger with my ex rather than show the hurt feeling and tears. Who wants their ex to see them cry? But I realized that by being more mindful and breathing and stepping away, the anger was less, but also the hurt was less. By using mindfulness I was able to respond rather than react. I also named some of the things he was doing with less emotional labels and that helped a great deal as well. My emotions didn’t bring me down so far. I didn’t feel crushed by them.

At this point, I feel like I have much more knowledge about mindfulness and some good tools in my kit. I would like to get into a consistent routine and am still working to make that happen. My main goal for bringing mindfulness into my life is to enjoy life more. Enjoy the little things, noticing more that is going on outside of myself and even noticing myself more. I don’t want to continue to, “live immersed in a world of constant doing,” as author and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it. I want to feel less pressed for time, less rushed and less anxious. A good reminder that I will take from Jon Kabat-Zinn and will work to put into practice is, “Moments of mindfulness are moments of peace and stillness, even in the midst of activity.”

At this point, my mindfulness practice is happening. It has begun, even if it’s just moments at a time.

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