“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
-- Anne Lamott
While I am a goal setter, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. But a week into the New Year I decided I needed to find out a bit more about the topic of meditation, or mindfulness.
Last August I heard a presentation by Dr. Tara Feil, a local clinical psychologist affiliated with CHI St. Alexius, at a TEDx event. I was amazed at the evidence she presented on simple methods we can adopt to combat negative thoughts.
I had also recently met Melanie Carvell, former director of Sanford Women’s Health Center, and currently a public speaker, cycling/health guru, who loves to talk about the importance of mindfulness.
I met with both Tara and Melanie and invited them to be part of a spring event, which we will detail in the months ahead. But having heard both Tara and Melanie talk about making a purposeful and focused effort to improve one's attitude and outlook, I thought I should dig into the topic, one of which I knew very little.
For starters, I again watched Tara’s TED Talk, and Melanie emailed me a Mindfulness and Meditation Tools (for dummies) one-sheet guide to get me started.
It turns out that in just five to 10 minutes per day we can achieve a level of calm, and even happiness, by simply focusing our mind on positive thoughts. Tara presented research that it takes at least five positive thoughts, comments or actions to counter one negative.
One of the first pieces I read quoted Mike Brooks, a psychologist who said, “It's not about clearing the mind; it's about focusing on one thing. When the mind wanders, the meditation isn't a failure. Our brain is like a wayward puppy, out of control. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the mediation.”
I am certainly guilty of that. But in spite of having a smart phone, iPad, or computer screen in front of me for many hours a day, I figured even I could make room for five to 10 minutes to focus on people in different circles -- people I love, people I am acquainted with and people I may not really like at all or am in conflict with.
At this point, I think it’s important to note that this is not to be confused with praying. I believe the critical difference is that when we pray we are generally asking for God to bless, intervene or act. While that’s a great thing, it is quite different than mindfulness, which are proven science-based techniques to enhance emotional health and reduce stress. It requires intention in our thoughts and actions to improve relationships.
So as not to overwhelm myself with this new daily goal, I started with a simple meditation called the Loving Kindness Meditation. It goes like this: “May I be well, May I be happy, May I be at peace.” It is said slowly while breathing deeply and exhaling between each of the declarations. And then it proceeds outward from there to people we love people we know and care about, and finally to people we may be in conflict with or don’t care for.
What I found was that as I spoke the name of each individual I recalled the fun and good times we have shared, the grandkids “performing” for us in the evenings with their songs and dances or playing games with them. I recalled sharing stories with friends at their dinner table, great conversations as I get to know new friends over a cup of coffee, and making a new friend on a 5K run.
And on that final, difficult piece, to wish wellness, happiness and peace on people I don’t care for -- well, that’s where prayer comes in because for a few it may take God’s intervention.
I posted something about this earlier this week and a wide variety of people responded positively to the idea giving me hope that in our divided nation we might see significant change if enough people get on board, but regardless, I am responsible for me and improving my own attitude and outlook. So in the words of the old Gospel song, “Let it begin with me.”
Looking for a place to start? Here are a few resources.
Tara Feil's TEDx talk:
A couple of Loving-Kindness scripts: https://positivepsychology.com/loving-kindness-meditation/
A link to 10% happier which has a free app that can be downloaded: www.tenpercent.com
Melanie Carvell's TEDx talk:
Gary Adkisson is publisher of The Bismarck Tribune.
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