Last month I attended a mindfulness retreat, (which was part of a class I took in January and kept postponing because I was too busy). We spent the day in silence with various mindfulness practices of yoga, body scan and meditation. At lunch, we were encouraged to go outside and maintain our silence while practicing mindful eating and noticing the clouds, trees, grass, and anything else in our surroundings, in other words, “being” for the lunch hour. Our facilitator advised us to avoid checking our voicemail or email and take full advantage of this rare opportunity.
I got it. I love to unplug. I choose mindfulness. But what did I do? I jumped in my car, laser focused (brain) on my errands I planned to get done over the lunch hour. I drove a few blocks before my awareness (mind) kicked in to say, “What are you doing? This is a mindfulness retreat! By doing errands you not only break your silence, you miss this rare opportunity to practice mindfulness for an entire day!” Yikes! I made a u-turn and headed back where I sheepishly got out of my car, (hopeful no-one was watching) and found a pleasant spot to enjoy my mindful lunch!
This illustrates how strong the messaging is in our brains, even for someone who teaches, studies and practices mindfulness. The good news is, as Jeffrey Swartz, M.D. points out, in You Are Not Your Brain, you cannot control the thoughts, sensations, urges, and feelings your brain has, such as “I need to get things done”, but you can control your response to them with your mind.
The practices of mindfulness train our brains to pause and allow our minds to make a conscious choice, instead of reacting impulsively or habitually to a thought, sensation, urge, or feeling. This is quite empowering, because the more you practice mindfulness, the more you experience conscious choices. At least I didn’t get all the way into the grocery store before I realized what I was doing!.
As you know, I recommend 30 minutes a day of mindfulness practice in 30 Days to Grace, but even 10 minutes a day can train your brain and change your mind. And spending an entire day in silent mindfulness is an interesting and rejuvenating experience not just for those few hours, but for many days to come. I invite you to take yourself on a mindfulness retreat on your own or in the structure of a group to fully embrace the practice of mindfulness and remember you are not your brain.