RAISIN: A TEN MINUTE MEAL
I took ten minutes to eat a raisin today because Arianna Huffington told me to. I finished reading “Thrive” about nine weeks ago and the three main things I took away from it (aside from the fact that she is an extraordinary woman) are walk more, sleep more, and learn to practice mindfulness and mindful meditation.
I’ve always been a high heel-wearing, no camping, big hair, junk food-eating, spirituality-ridiculing, retail-therapizing, smoking, foul-mouthed, Vogue-reading kind of woman. The other day when I told my eighteen year old daughter not to bother me because I was going to meditate, she nearly choked on her Kentucky Fried Chicken wing. I ordered “Mindfulness for Dummies” on Amazon and waited unmindfully for three days. I closed the front door with one hand and ripped open the package with the other, not so mindfully. In short, mindfulness means paying attention on purpose. Using qualities like compassion, curiosity, and acceptance, while you are aware of your place in the present moment. I won’t bore you with all the scientific and statistical data that proves how effective mindfulness is in lowering blood pressure, managing eating disorders, reducing the frequency and intensity of anxiety attacks, boosting your immune system and handling anger, impatience and frustration, on and on, etc.. Y’all can look that stuff up yourself.
What it really comes down to is this: mindfulness and mindful meditation are intended to help relieve ALL suffering. To open yourself up to feeling a greater sense of compassion for ourselves and others in our everyday lives. The first step is to understand your intention or purpose in practicing mindfulness. When I first considered what my intentions were I believed I was looking for a tool to help calm my nerves and reduce my stress. However, when I tried that intention, it didn’t quite “fit”.
The more I thought (and felt) about it, the more I realized that what I hoped mindfulness could do for me was to make me feel that I’m going to be OK; that I am safe within myself; that I can do this thing called life day after day and maybe, possibly learn to really enjoy it; and, that I don’t have to fear what has already happened and that I don’t have to brace myself each day for a fear that may never come.
With that intention, attention and attitude, I sat down and tried the first of the suggested mindful meditations called “Mindfulness of Breath”, which is both exactly what it sounds like and much harder than you’d think. Basically, you sit still and pay attention to your in and out breaths. Inevitably, eventually (seven to ten seconds for me) your mind starts to wander. You will have thoughts like “don’t forget to wash the guest bedroom sheets” and you may experience emotions like irritation, sadness, anger, joy or anxiety. Every time you become aware that your mind has wondered and taken your attention off your breathing, you “gently, kindly, without criticism or judgement guide your focus back to the breath.” The book says that your mind may “wander off a thousand times, or for long periods of time. Each time it does softly, lightly and smoothly bring your attention back to your breath.” For beginners, they recommend doing this for about ten minutes a day. It’s really important to set your phone or timer to the length of time you wish to meditate, otherwise you will find yourself constantly wondering how much longer you have to do this sometimes tedious task. I did it for twenty minutes everyday for four weeks. I found I enjoyed it so much and felt so much better afterward that I wanted try other meditations.
I chose “Savoring Eating Meditation” next. I think I was hungry at the time. This is where the raisin comes in. You start by placing a raisin in your hand and imagining that it dropped from space and that you have never seen one before. You spend the next ten minutes observing, smelling, listening (what??), touching and finally tasting, chewing and swallowing it. As with the breathing meditation, every time you find your mind wandering, you guide it gently with a smile back to where you were in your experience of the raisin. Agony right? Right! And wrong! I found that I spent the rest of the day paying much closer attention to EVERYTHING I did, especially all the stuff I didn’t want to do and don’t normally enjoy doing (dishes, laundry, phone calls, errands). I was so fully observing that I forgot to be annoyed and stressed by the doing. All I’m saying is try it. I dare you. Get your copy of Mindfulness For Dummies and try out a few of the shortest simplest meditations. I have no real idea HOW it works, but I know it does. I began to notice the difference in my attitude towards myself and others shift after just three or four days of practicing ten minute mindful meditations. After eight weeks of daily practice the moments in my life when I believe, think and feel I’m going to be OK are lasting longer and longer.
If at the same time my risk for heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and depression decrease, and my ability to focus on my work, pay closer attention to my friends and family, feel more gratitude for what I do have and my experiences of real empathy for others increases, then it’s the best ten minutes a day I will ever spend and more than worth getting up earlier for, taking an afternoon break for, or staying up ten minutes later for.
If after reading this you want to give it a try, there are all kinds of tools out there to help. Just Google “mindfulness” and you will get hundreds of tips, recommendations and suggestions in the form of apps, articles, blogs, CDs, podcasts, Youtube videos, classes, retreats and workbooks designed to get you started and guide you mindfully toward your purpose.
Mindfulness For Dummies
Article by Anna Quick Palmer