Mindfulness practice for changing times: How to maintain ballast in times of upheaval
2020 is the “gift” that keeps on giving. September smelled like a campfire as Utah and the entire West Coast experienced devastating wildfires. Not so long ago, an unprecedented windstorm hit the Salt Lake Valley and uprooted thousands of large trees, causing damage in neighborhoods and parks everywhere. Even if you’ve stayed healthy, chances are COVID has upended your life in many ways. And oh yeah, there was an earthquake here back in March. Seems so long ago now. And then there’s the constant political chaos.
Fortunately, there are ways to maintain ballast even in the midst of seemingly constant upheaval. Mindfulness practice can be our lifejacket.
Part of what makes events like these so disconcerting is that they remind us that we are powerless to control much of what happens in our lives. The onslaught of uncontrollable disasters is overwhelming and exhausting.
But the truth is, even when our lives seem calm, change is still happening—every single moment. We just don’t notice it so much when our lives are rolling along undisturbed.
That is the grounding principle behind mindfulness meditation. When we stop and look deeply into our experience, we see the process of constant change in every single moment. By observing our senses, we can see for ourselves the constant arising and passing of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch and thought. We see that nothing stays the same—ever. Observing this moment-to-moment process of change helps us become more comfortable with the changes in our lives.
Sutra 1.2 in the yoga sutras of Patanjali (Alistair Shearer’s translation) says, “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” This silence doesn’t depend on external or internal conditions. It is a silence that is intrinsic to all of us. It is the peaceful core of every being. While dhyana (meditation) can’t help us control what happens in our lives, it can help us access this peaceful core.
Basic Mindfulness Practice
- Begin your practice by sitting quietly in a comfortable position. You can sit on a meditation cushion or even in a chair if you like.
- Settle back in your body, so that you are not leaning forward. This is a subtle, but powerful, adjustment. Leaning forward creates tension in the body. Settling back allows you to be more receptive to whatever is arising.
- Now feel the contact points in your body—your hips, legs and feet. Relax into your base. What else is happening in the body? Does your energy feel heavy or light, quick or slow, agitated or calm?
- Now tune into your sense of hearing. Are there sounds in your environment? If so, settle back and allow them to come and go naturally. Feel the vibration of sound throughout your body.
- Notice your breathing. Notice the rhythm, depth and the physical sensations associated with the expansion and release of the inhalation and exhalation.
- What is the landscape of the mind? Are thoughts present? Are emotions present? How is your mind reacting to what you are observing?
- Stay with this for at least five minutes. You can practice as long as you want.
We may not be able to control what happens in our lives. But through mindfulness practice, we can access the steadfast and infinite peace that can guide us through even the most trying times.
Charlotte Bell has been practicing yoga since 1982. She is the author of several yoga-related books including, most recently, Hip Healthy Asana, and founder of Mindful Yoga Collective. CharlotteBellYoga.com/