The Starfish

You’ve probably heard something about mindfulness meditation. You may even have a few friends who are committed to the practice. Perhaps you know that mindfulness practice helps with stress, anxiety, depression and focus. But did you know that meditation can slow normal brain atrophy associated with aging? Or that a mindfulness intervention can support eye health in glaucoma patients? I’m pretty astounded by the number of physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral aspects of life that a steady mindfulness practice can positively affect. Beyond the benefits recognized by research, I hear of so many intangible gains by students who regularly meditate. Things like “Life seems better.” “I notice when I don’t practice.” “I feel kinder, more patient.” “I’m happier.” “I don’t know where I’d be without it.” As I sometimes say in my classes, if mindfulness could be delivered in drug form, the person with the patent would be rich, while the rest of us couldn’t afford the purchase! The practice of mindfulness is fairly simple. You don’t have to stop thoughts, empty the mind, sit cross-legged or try to relax. Just place your attention on an object like the breath, and when your attention drifts away, gently guide it back to the object of focus. That’s not too hard … not nearly as hard as working out at the gym! If mindfulness practice is so easy, why do some of us struggle to actually do it? I believe it’s the result of so much competition for our time and attention – work, family, chores, social media, the web, Netflix, and more. And an underlying sense of guilt triggered by just being rather than doing. Another email to answer, helping the kids with homework, a load of laundry to throw in the washer – we’ll never run out of things to keep ourselves occupied. But, as Jon Kabat-Zinn once said, “It is indeed a radical act of love just to sit down and be quiet for a time by yourself.” And research and testimonials backs him up. So, do you meditate? If not, what keeps you from meditating, despite your awareness of its benefits? What really, really, really blocks you from caring for yourself at the deepest level … this is a question worthy of contemplation. How might we break the habit of chronic busyness to devote time to activities that serve us at the deepest level? Some simple steps can help … • Set an intention to practice every day • Establish practice times and add them to your calendar • Connect with likeminded individuals in a meditation group • Recognize that what you do for yourself impacts your family, community, and the world. Thinking about mindfulness practice, I’m reminded of this parable originally written by Loren Eisley – One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish washed ashore by the high tide. He soon encountered a young boy eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. The boy simply replied, “I’m saving starfish, Sir”. The old man chuckled, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?” The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!” Are you ready to make a difference to this one? To the “you” that is part of a greater whole? If so, there is no better time than today to start. If you have any tips to establish a steady mindfulness practice, please share!