Living Anxiously Part Four: Mindfulness Practice

The practice of living fully in the present moment— what we call mindfulness— can give us the courage to face our fears and no longer be pushed and pulled around by them. To be mindful means to look deeply, to touch our true nature of interbeing and recognize that nothing is ever lost.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear

When I went to my first yoga class in-person (not with a YouTube video at home), I was petrified. The teacher introduced herself to me before it began and when I told her how nervous I was, she said, “No one does everything perfectly. That is why they call it a practice.”

That has stuck with me, especially because I have a tendency to beat myself up if I don’t do something to perfection. This is why I’ve titled this post “Mindfulness Practice,” not just “Mindfulness.” There is no destination with mindfulness. It is a constant, beautiful growth that never ends.

Mindfulness is the energy of attention. …The fruit of mindfulness practice is the realization that peace and joy are available within us and around us, right here and right now.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Mindfulness

I’ve discovered that mindfulness is really worth all the hoopla. It brings me a sense of calm, a way to connect genuinely with the world around me, and helps me see life for what it is instead of how I try to define it because let’s face it, everyone has their own way to paint the world.

There is a serene beauty in breathing in and out and knowing you are doing it. The quick pace slows down and I can really see the rain drops on my window and smell it through the screen. When I am being mindful and I look into Owen’s eyes, I see things that I had forgotten were there. I see a little person with this incredible precocious personality that fills me with so much joy and pain and love and fear–and none of it scares me. All of those emotions create a meaningful moment where the two of us tell stories or have a real conversation without trying to get out the door or move onto the next item of business. These are rare moments, but as I practice mindfulness, they are becoming less rare and I like it that way.

When I thought about my funeral, I thought about my death. The thought alone is enough to conjure anxiety, which is why I knew I needed to think about it (feel it and do it anyway, right?). Thich Nhat Hanh’s Fear gives a great meditative practice that guides you in thinking about death in a safe way without much anxiety. And if there is, you can feel it and examine it mindfully instead of run from it.

As I’ve thought about death, I’ve realized that when I’m on my deathbed, I want to look back on a meaningful life–a full life, which means filling it daily, maybe even hourly, by moments that create meaning–that FILL me.

If you make a habit of mindfulness practice, when difficulties arise, you will already know what to do.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear

I have read more than eight of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, each one of them better than the one before, and while he is a Buddhist monk, he keeps most of his writing as applicable as he can to people of all faiths. My favorites so far have been Fear (which I mentioned above and is WONDERFUL for anxiety) and No Mud, No Lotus (my favorite and AMAZING for depression).

On days when I forget to be mindful or when I let anxiety rule and I end up in bed, I remind myself of that yoga teacher. Every day is my personal practice. That is all. No one does everything right and I am no exception. Small, meaningful steps, even if on a bad day I move from the bed to the couch and watch a movie and make popcorn with Owen instead of curling up, I have been successful that day. I hope soon I’ll make it much, much further than that. I have big plans! But for now, that is enough because I know that through these small moves the best gifts unfold.