A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach mindfulness to a group of fitness instructors. The type of workout they teach is really accessible, and but also super tough, so their clients definitely encounter their boundaries in each class. They spend a lot of time encouraging students to really “check-in” to their bodies and minds during class, which definitely means encountering discomfort, but also encourages presence. Their philosophy is that each client needs to decide what works for them on a given day, and make the choice to push through the discomfort (never pain) or give it a break. So basically, as I told them, they’re mindfulness teachers in disguise. You may even be, too, you just don’t know it.
Opportunities to be mindful don’t just happen on a meditation cushion, or even a yoga mat. They’re all around us, every day. Getting the most out of the time you’ve set aside for working out requires that you be present, pay attention, and bring skillful effort. You can just go through the motions, or you can really engage and see what kind of change you can instigate in yourself. You can bring your body into a classroom or a meeting and just be there, or you can really tune in to what’s being said, and if appropriate, contribute. You can stop listening and let your inner defense mechanisms take over when you hear or see something you don’t like or that bores you, or you can pay attention fully and respond intentionally, if at all.
When we aren’t present, the world calls us out in big and small ways. Our workouts don’t work, our coaches push us, our professors and bosses wake us up, our friends tell us to snap out of it. And that’s if we’re lucky. In other cases, they may just pull back. If you’re not engaging, then they won’t either. Even more deeply, we often feel a sense of internal dissatisfaction when we aren’t plugged in. Being disconnected from our experiences and the people around us doesn’t feel good. But with so much going on in our heads, we often mistake our internal “thinking life” for actual life. But actual life wants your attention, and if you let it, it will give you ample opportunities to check back in.
Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by something that caught you off guard? Maybe it was something beautiful you just happened to notice in the midst of rushing from point A to point B. Or perhaps that rushing resulted in you wearing some venti-sized caffeination when just a moment ago, you’d been carrying it. Sometimes, we help each other check in. Other times, the world seems to do that work for us. Whether we mean to or not, whether we want to or not, we stop. We pay attention.
That’s mindfulness. Even just for a moment, we are fully present. We see, we hear, we feel what is happening to and around us. Our minds want to pull us back to their ideas, stories, and opinions, but for a period of time, we can choose if we want to go with them. We can choose to just be exactly where we are, and gently help others to do the same. It’s experiential learning and teaching, all at the same time, and the classroom is everywhere you go.
Photo credit: Abigail Keenan