This guest post comes from Jay, the Community Outreach Director at One Mind Dharma.
On March 20th of 2015, I was sitting in a psychiatric locked ward in Pasadena, California crying in the corner of my shared room. The bathroom had no door and neither did the bedrooms. There were cries and howls from the rest of the unit that would enter my room and amplify my own despair. I had broken my hand earlier in the week and the stars I had seen that day when I broke it were coming back through a wave of withdrawal. The more I tried to fight the feelings of shame and physical discomfort, the greater the intensity rose and seemed as if it would consume me entirely.
One of the counselors was kind enough to listen to me during a cigarette break and told me to sit through it. He said that if I were to try to run from the feelings they would only gain traction and become worse and worse. Easier said than done, but I did. I sat in my room and noticed the different patterns on the floor and the walls. I noticed the way the sun would shine through the plexi-glass window panes and were muffled on the wall. From here, the thoughts and feelings would rise and I would try my best to notice their coming and passing without attaching any stories to them. Gradually I began to feel a glimmer of peace.
Eventually I did leave the unit and entered into sober living, reached out to a man who would become my spiritual teacher and advisor and he helped me even more. He taught me that every time I felt disappointment or a negative feeling I could to label them as “okay.” On days where I was sore or anxious, I began to recite, “Its okay. Go with the flow.” Sometimes I would repeat this throughout the entire day and wasn’t present for much of anything. Other times I noticed that when I was feeling uncomfortable I would find myself repeating this mantra as a way to get through the discomfort. This mindful practice of, “Okay,” began to build space within myself to pause and notice the passing feelings throughout the course of my day. There were more moments than not that weren’t favorable, and it took a great deal of effort to remind myself that these too were “okay”.
Months passed and this practice led to more formally seated meditations. But in the beginning, it was to notice my feelings come and go and to ground myself in the moment with an “okay” thought that set the tone for me living my life more mindfully.
To me, meditation is the action that brings about mindfulness, or a sort of awareness of my feelings and individual moments in the day. Mindfulness has become a way for me to pause when I notice the level of presence I have in the moment slipping. I like to refer to the absence of awareness as mindlessness.
Mindlessness to me is smoking a second cigarette after not enjoying the first one. Or wanting to eat dessert before I’ve even finished my meal. It’s waiting for the next moment before I’ve fully been able to appreciate the present moment.
Mindfulness to me begins in the morning in a very simple process I like to call “gearing up.” Before I get out of bed, I sit up or if I’m confident I won’t fall back to sleep I lay in bed and simply observe what’s around me. The rising and falling of my chest, the way the sun hits the walls of my room, the weather outside, the softness of my mattress. I simply observe my surroundings and try to develop a mindfulness around where I am. I try to think of what I’m going to do throughout my day, what I’d like to accomplish, and if I need to I write a list. Then, I put my best foot forward and get out of bed. I personally like to also sit formally and meditate before I start my day, but even if I don’t I’ve at least set the groundwork for beginning mindfully and my day tends to be better and I seem to be more present even just from this practice.
Over time my mindfulness habits have helped me to see the compulsion in using drugs or alcohol. How cravings were a lot like unbearable feelings, and that I could breathe or distract myself to stop from giving into the temptation (or even fantasising) about getting high or drinking. Even today over a year later there are days sometimes where the best advice I have to offer myself is that everything is “okay”.
And it is.
And it will continue to be.