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There is a war in Europe. We are destroying the planet. Fill in the blank.
Sometimes I feel as though the planet is having a panic attack. I wake up with a sense of dread, overwhelmed by international news and environmental degradation and the normal unexpected events that life throws at us. And I know I am not alone. The New York Times recently reported, yet again, that teens are experiencing a mental health crisis. Information overload coupled with technology overload is a recipe for severe mental health issues.
Teens are society’s canaries. If the youthful resilience of fluctuating hormones cannot ride the waves of our current ills, we need a major shift in societal values. We as individuals and family members need to step up and grab the precious lives we have and take some responsibility. But how can we slow down and experience our sanity?
Mindfulness—it can literally save your life.
We can’t stop time, but we can shift our experience of life in each moment. The gap between practicing presence and remembering presence is an illusion. If we can expand our awareness of physical and temporal boundaries, we create more time and space. The relationship to space, light, and time is the foundation of the theory of relativity. But we don’t need astrophysics to understand love, grief, pain, or acceptance. We can learn how to meditate.
It’s essential to slow down right now.
With global events unraveling in unprecedented circumstances, we often find ourselves overwhelmed and helpless, not sure if or how we can care for ourselves, our loved ones, and never mind our planet. But it is certain that speeding up will not improve this situation. The inverse of mindfulness is distraction, speed, and dissociation. Now is the time to practice being present, but first we have to slow down.
Here are three baby steps toward establishing a mindfulness practice:
1. Pretend, or act “as if” you are already calm
Fake it till you make it. Neuroscientists have proven that behavioral shifts can result from slowing down. By deepening and lengthening the breath, calming the mind, and relaxing the body, the change is instantaneous. Cortisol levels drop, oxygen floods the blood, and euphoria can happen. This affects the body, nervous system, circulatory system, emotional responsiveness, and mental acuity. We learn from our bodies what our bodies need.
2. Imagine (or sense) yourself content
Visualize inner peace. When I facilitate a mindfulness class, I often begin with this prompt: Visualize yourself as a seated Buddha, sitting on a mountain overlooking a vast river rushing below. Actually see yourself serene, graceful, and proud. Feel your elegance, peacefulness, and inner freedom. Allow your senses to open and receive the world. Feel the mountain-like stability of the earth and the wind’s gentle movement on the skin’s surface. Hear the chorus of living beings, smell the river bank, the fish teaming. See in your mind’s eye your body of Buddha light, and open to the world of experience. Our mirror neurons allow us to actually experience these sensations.
3. Practice, but find a mindfulness teacher you trust
Make me one with everything. We do not live in isolation, even if it feels like it. We are interconnected. If we bruise a finger, our entire body will feel pain, including our mind. Every part of our precious green planet depends on every other part. Knowing this, internalizing this, can shift the way we walk upon the earth. But how do we gain this skill of self-assessment? We find a mindfulness teacher, or a group, or an app, and we practice!
I strongly recommend finding a good teacher with whom you resonate, if possible in real life. Find someone who is accessible and available to answer all of your questions and concerns. Then take the plunge and start the journey toward your true self!