Spirituality | How to be mindful when it matters most

Shalini Bahl-Milne

Shalini Bahl-Milne

Spirituality | How to be mindful when it matters most

We have the capacity to return to that spacious mind that is free from stress, distractions, and judgments. I like to call that spacious mind “our field within”

Let’s try this together first.

1.       Take a moment to turn your attention inwards, lowering or closing your eyes, if that’s helpful. Just becoming aware of your breath moving naturally in and out of your body.
2.       With each in-breath, feeling the spaciousness in your chest. And with each exhale, dropping your shoulders down just a little bit more.
3.       For this next breath, letting go of your judgments and expectations of how this moment needs to be, and seeing if you can receive the gift of this breath, in this moment.
4.       When you complete that cycle, opening your eyes.

Were you able to let go of your judgments and distractions and reach your field within? If you didn’t, that’s okay. In fact, that’s the challenge: We are not able to reach that field within when we want to. I’m here to tell you that mindfulness is your capacity to step off the treadmill and return to that field within. Mindfulness is a practice. It disrupts our autopilot thinking and supports us returning to our awareness, the field within. Mindfulness is also the field of non-judging awareness that allows us to see things clearly.

I remember my first political debate when I was running for town council. I was waiting in line with five other candidates. There were 100 people packed in a library waiting for us. My heart was beating fast, my mind was jumping from topic to topic, and I was feeling really anxious. So, I took a deep breath in and that helped some. Then came doubt.

I don’t belong here. I didn’t have any experience in politics and some of the candidates had many years of experience. I pushed my negative thoughts away with some positive thinking and breathing. At the end of the debate my campaign manager comes to me and says, “You were not yourself.” And he was right. I was disconnected from myself and the audience.

In that one critical situation, I encountered all three hindrances:

1.       My mind was running in circles;
2.       I was pushing away what was uncomfortable;
3.       And I was grasping for audience validation.

Meditate, contemplate, and act

The invitation here is to be willing to meet ourselves with the good and the messy. When we do that, we are able to examine our emotions and thoughts with kindness. We are able to look closely at what’s true and what’s our default. When I did that in the subsequent debates, my campaign manager told me I was 1000 times better.

How much better can our lives be? 1000 times better, if only we can learn not to avoid the discomfort and to return to ourselves. However, we didn’t grow up learning how to do that. Here is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness can be practiced with three steps: Meditate, contemplate, and act.

1.       Meditate: Returning to our non-judging awareness. Meditation allows us to retrain our brain to focus on the object we’ve chosen. This could be your breath, your body, movement, or any usual activity like swimming, running, or Zumba. I encourage people who have difficulty doing seated meditation to try any of these activities.
2.       Contemplate: Once our mind is stabilized, now we can contemplate. What is my experience right now? What are my intentions for this situation? We can ask ourselves, “What’s here now?” and “What would I like to see happen? What’s important right now?”
3.       Act: It’s not enough to just have good intentions. The more we can practice acting skillfully, in non-critical situations, the easier it will be to act skillfully in critical situations.

As a society, we have many big decisions we need to make as we come out of the pandemic. We can step back on the treadmill and forge our way forward, or we can return to the field together. I understand there’s an urgency to get back to normal. But the pandemic has forced us to see that normal is broken. We have insurmountable challenges: racism, poverty, climate change, to name just a few. Staying on the treadmill mostly provides us quick fixes, efficiencies, and strategies that favor some but others. 

We need a new way of thinking. We need a new way of working together, of finding solutions that emerge when we’re willing to struggle together. I believe that mindfulness builds a collective capacity to move through our resistance and return to the field together. In this space there is creative potential to solve any problem. Maybe not right away, but it supports us in making this journey together possible and even worthwhile. 

Moving forward, when you encounter difficulty at home, at work, or in the community, remember, don’t walk away. Return back to yourself and remind yourself and each other, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. Let’s meet there.”