If you had asked me ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even known what that meant. And I certainly wouldn’t have had an awful lot of days back then that could be described as mindful, as I grew my practice as a marketing consultant working with law firms and other professionals.
But, I’m happy (and grateful) to have arrived at a point where I do have mindful days. Not all of them. But lots, nevertheless.
It would be nice to be able to say that I was drawn to mindfulness for the sheer enlightenment of it, but that’s not how it happened.
You know the drill. Living life as a rat on a treadmill. Running from one urgent thing to the next and feeling like they are all equally important.
The mad pace eventually led to some health issues. Nothing serious. But, still more than I could comfortably continue to ignore.
While I wasn’t ready to retire my treadmill just yet, I did learn how to take better care of myself, and somewhere along the way, I discovered mindfulness.
I started with an extensive mindfulness program about nine years ago. I’ve kept it up on a daily basis ever since, with added training through retreats, groups and online summits. This was a sea change for me (as it was for others that I encountered during this phase of my life). It helped with the health issues and so much more. In ways I could never have predicted, this discipline impacted my life, relationships and career as a practice development consultant.
I could go on and on about mindfulness. But there’s nothing like an example.
So, here is a description of my past life and a typical mindless day:
Morning. Feeling groggy. A bit of trouble sleeping through the night – a not so infrequent issue. And staring at the clock didn’t help me to fall back asleep. Discombobulated, it’s slow going to get organized and out the door. Until I’m late! Then I forget about feeling tired because I’m too busy panicking about the time! I practically fly to the subway! And can I just say how much I truly dislike starting the day feeling, even a little, sweaty?! Yech. After meetings with clients, I find myself wondering if I had interjected too early. Oh well. One never knows about these things. Return phone calls and emails. Race to the gym (even though I missed my favourite class!), home to the family and dinner. Watch a bit of tube, oblivious to the grating on the nerves in the background. Back to bed. And it starts again…
Let’s try that again, mindfully this time:
Morning. Not entirely refreshed. A bit of trouble sleeping through the night. But, after about 15 minutes of staring at the clock and getting more and more annoyed, I started a body scan (paying attention to, and breathing into, one body part at a time). This helped to slow down the runaway thoughts, deepen the breathing and eventually put me back to sleep. A few mindful breaths and yoga stretches are enough to shake off the stiffness. I pay mindful attention to sounds and vibrations on my way to work, without getting swept away by the pleasant ones (the birds!) or annoyed by the bothersome ones (construction). During the meeting with my clients, I notice they’re looking a bit antsy and stressed today. So, I give them space and time to collect their thoughts and fully express themselves. By the end of our discussion, the energy in the room has completely shifted. There’s a calm, optimism. Scan phone calls and emails, return the urgent ones and make a note to myself to take care of the others tomorrow, so I can make it to my Body Combat class! Race to the gym, home to the family and dinner. Mindful washing of the dishes. Feeling the soapy suds, the warm water and the padded mat under my feet. A little reading, then back to bed. And it starts again…
That’s it. That’s why this discipline does it for me. It keeps me in tune with the present and with others, in every aspect of my life and work.
And all of it is transferable to the demanding life of a lawyer. To quote Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living:
“In the vast middle range of stressors, where exposure is neither immediately lethal, like bullets or high-level radiation or poison, nor basically benign, like gravity, the general rule for those causing psychological stress is that how you see things and how you handle them makes all the difference in terms of how much stress you will experience…
If we can change the way we see, we can change the way we respond…”
Mindfulness doesn’t change your life.
It changes how you notice your life. That’s what changes your life.
Next time we will explore some ways to get started. From sticking your toe in the water to diving in head first!