Being (the) Present

Posted on November 28, 2010 by

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Courtney Townley

It would be illogical and absurd to expect that the simple act of reading a book would lead one to reach their weight loss goal and maintain it long term.  While a book may inspire, motivate and educate someone about diet and exercise, it is the “practice” of the suggested theory that ultimately leads one to succeed….or not (if it was a flawed theory to begin with).  Bottom line….DOING THE THING until it becomes habit plays the lead role in facilitating change, as all of you traveling through Genesis Transformation are well aware.

I have read books on meditation for years, attended classes sporadically, and engaged in lengthy conversations with friends and family about the benefits of a regular practice.   Like knowing that clean food and regular exercise are good for me, I have long known that meditation would be an invaluable tool for stress management and improving the quality of my life, but I have never made it a priority…until now.

When it comes to committing to change, I often joke with clients that people have to bang their head against the wall hard enough  before they are ready to change, and, clearly, some of us have to hit our heads a lot harder than others.  I am skillful and even graceful in several arenas of my life, stress management, however, has never been one of them, and, oh how much precious energy I have wasted!   Furthermore, now that I have a child, life seems to be spinning at an ever increasing pace and there are days where I am trying to balance so much that I feel like I am missing everything.  One of my biggest fears is that my son will turn 18 and I will feel that, although I raised him, I missed his childhood because I wasn’t really present. So after banging my head against the wall one too many times in the, nothing-less-than-chaotic, past year, I got desperate and sought out a way to educate myself about developing a practice once and for all, and most importantly, a way to hold myself accountable for how I handle stress.

Enter Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a course founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, which educates students to relate directly with whatever is happening in their life, to take charge of their life and how to do something that no one else can do for them.

The theory of MBSR is deeply rooted in fully engaging yourself in the present moment….good or bad, developing a keen awareness on how your body responds to stressful events and, most importantly, developing skills that assist you in making a different choice in the way you handle unpleasant, stressful or painful experiences.  While some meditation techniques teach what I had interpreted as a sort of “mindlessness”, the MBSR technique encourages being fully engaged in something for an extended period of time.  For example, in a seated mediation, I can focus on breath or body sensation.  In a body scan (which can take up to an hour) I travel through every part of my body becoming hyper-aware of what is happing at each point in the body, be it good or bad.  In mindful yoga, I take pause after each exercise to be fully present with how my body is responding.  All of these practices are teaching me to be fully aware and present with what is.  One of the most surprising and rewarding things I have learned is that when I pause long enough in the uncomfortable moments,  when I PAY ATTENTION and accept my current condition without judgment,  the shorter the discomfort is.  I literally move through it, rather than trying to fight my way around it.

As any parent is well aware, getting dinner on the table with a toddler in the house can feel like climbing Mount Everest.  It is so difficult, if fact, that I have come to dread the time between 4-6pm each day.  As I try and prepare the simplest of meals, my son is whining at my feet because he wants to see what I am doing, when I don’t pick him up he tries with all of his might to pull my pants off and when that fails he goes for the cabinets that he knows aren’t locked (I know, I know…it’s number 100 on my list of to do’s).  By the time dinner is served (if I make it that far), I am on the verge of tears, very short tempered, and literally just want to lock either myself or my son in a soundproof room so both of us can SCREAM!!  I am happy to report; however, that half way into my course, simple tasks that I use to find monumentally challenging are far easier on occasion….like cooking dinner.  I have found that when I approach my darker emotions with curiosity and spend a little time exploring them, they depart fairly quickly.  And the less time I have spent “caught-up” in my emotions, the less whiny my son and I both are.  Dinner is served and I am more often wearing an honest-to-goodness smile….not a forced one that covers clenched teeth.  It seems like such a small victory, but simple shifts like this one are making all the difference in the world with how I respond to stress.

I have a very long way to go with developing a solid daily practice, and making a habit of becoming less reactive, but I am more excited and committed to this transformation than ever before.  Much like the process of Genesis Transformation, the journey has been broken down into small progressive steps to make me feel successful and I am starting to feel that this is the beginning of something great.  I have long appreciated the value of meditation in theory, but appreciating it through practice is so much better than what I could have grasped in a book.   I am DOING IT….and that has made all the difference.  How hysterically simple and, profoundly life-altering!