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Why Should I Practice Mindfulness?

Why should I practice mindfulness?  Because I like myself better when I do.

I regularly get the question, "Why should I practice mindfulness?" It's a great question, and the answer is different for every person.

This is the point in this blog post where experts advise to tell you what's in this for you, dear reader, by including a hook, such as, "Top 5 reasons practicing mindfulness is easy and will make you thin, rich, and beautiful! OR muscular, rich, and irresistible!" (or whichever combo speaks to you).

However, this is the point in this blog post where I'm going to divert a little to explain the concept of Try it on for size and also offer my perspective on what can arise when something doesn't fit.

Try It on For Size

I've lived in a bigger body my entire life, and so for me, going shopping for clothing is hard, especially when I was younger. I'd see something on a mannequin that I liked, and when I tried it on, it wasn't at all flattering. Or the Guess? jeans that I would've given anything to have when I was a teenager that didn't come in a big enough size for me.

In the early 2000s, I was a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding, which included nine bridesmaids and nine groomsmen. It was a very big event, and I was working full-time and going to law school at night, which meant money was tight. The dress was strapless, and the shoes were strappy and had a heel. (I said yes to the invitation to be part of this wedding before I got curious about what it would involve.) I was required to send my measurements across the World Wide Web to order the dress, which was simultaneously horrifying and humiliating because I was by far the largest woman in this wedding. When the dress arrived, I pulled it out of the box and tried it on. It was so gigantic in the bodice that I couldn't keep the dress up without holding onto it. I felt physically sick to my stomach. There was NO WAY I was going to be able to wear this dress in a wedding.

I went to work the next day and shared my problem with a wise woman I worked with named Judy who said, "Here's the number for Joyce at Something Wonderful. She has worked miracles for me and my girls over the years. Call her-- now." I did, and within a few days, I was at Joyce's shop, wearing that dress, awash in anxiety in a dressing room. Joyce came in, sized up the situation, started pinning the bodice, and gently asked, "Why did they order this dress three sizes too big for you?". At that point, I burst into tears, and she said, "Honey, it's the dress, not you."

Honey, it's the dress, not you.

In my experience, there is pervasive conditioning that if something is working for everyone else, or I'm a little outside the "norm," then there's something wrong with me, or I'm not doing it right, or I'm just not getting it. In reality, it's actually the dress, or the advice, that doesn't fit me quite right, not the other way around. And that's OK! In fact, as I understand it, in transmitting the teachings to students, Gotama Siddhartha, the Buddha, said something to the effect of, "Don't take my word for it-- try it on and see how these teachings work for you."

So it is in this spirit that I'm sharing my story of why I practice mindfulness, with the hope that it will help you discern whether you'd like to try the practices of mindfulness meditation on for size. Take what feels helpful, leave what doesn't, and alter all of it to fit you!

My Story of Why

a smiling woman and her father
Dad and me at my undergrad graduation party, May 1999

In autumn 2016, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and I was in the midst of a professional crisis. The work I was doing was no longer satisfying, and I was a total mess facing life without my dad. I was also in the midst of being a wife and stepmom to a teenage son, and I recall being exhausted, frustrated, and cranky most of the time. Over the course of the next 14 months, our family's journey with pancreatic cancer was all the things... and also, a gift cancer gave me was clarity around what was important to me. My guiding question became: How am I spending my time?

By early January 2018, my dad died. In early April 2018, I experienced my first guided mindfulness meditation practice. By January 2019, I was enrolled in a mindfulness studies master of arts degree program, with the hope that I could learn about the practices that were helping me so that I could help other legal professionals find some ease in their professional practices. Now I work with all kinds of professionals who want me to coach them in finding ease in their lives with the support of mindfulness practices.

In my experience, mindfulness meditation is like any other practice or exercise-- it takes some time to notice a difference, and practice isn't always pleasant. In fact, sometimes it's pretty unpleasant. However, I like who I am when I'm practicing mindfulness meditation much better than I like who I am when I'm NOT practicing mindfulness meditation.

When I practice mindfulness meditation "formally" (the act of taking time out to practice), I build capacity for being with the unpleasant. I am more likely to notice the pleasant. I find it easier to access compassion (and self-compassion). I am friendlier, to myself and others. I am easier for others to be around. I find it easier to practice non-judgment. I notice sensations in all parts of my body, which help me remember that I'm a heart-mind actually walking around in a body. I experience glimpses of clarity. I find it easier to trust myself... and that no matter what, I'll have what I need to figure out how to work with whatever arises.

Along with the formal practice, I also practice "informally" (sometimes called "off the cushion"), which means that I find moments to practice as I go about my daily activities. This allows me to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation to my life, and my life to the practice of mindfulness meditation. This is especially helpful to me as I navigate the tricky terrain of life, when lots of emotions are showing up, and I'm feeling it in my body. Maybe you've experienced this too, either in your work or personal life?

My practice is less about getting "good" at mindfulness meditation and more about the intention to PRACTICE EVERYDAY.

A Post by Brian Thompson

On Monday, October 2, I found a post in my social media feed from Brian Thompson, a friend and colleague from the mindfulness studies program. I admire Brian's practice and always appreciate him sharing what he's learned. He's also engaged in impactful work as the Director of Community Engagement at Copper Beech Institute, which you should check out!

As I read through his post, I thought, "THIS! This is why I practice mindfulness meditation, too!" Brian has graciously permitted me to share his post here, which I have excerpted and also included in full. Do yourself a favor and read it in its entirety.

... How much time do we spend lost in the wandering thoughts of the mind? What's the price?... However, everything about the circumstances, the rain, my phone dying, it allowed the opportunity for me to truly be present if I only chose. To see the ever-present beauty in our lives, the blue sky behind the obscuring clouds. And that is a gift I am grateful for.
a little boy wearing a yellow rain jacket and walking in the rain
Elijah modeling how to engage mindfully with the present moment.

What Gets in the Way?

I mentioned in my story that I was in the midst of a professional crisis when my dad got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I often describe it as feeling like I was gripping onto an out-of-control merry-go-round that was surrounded by overgrown bushes, and I was getting bashed by the branches as I held on and tried to survive the ride.

Here's what I didn't mention, though: I have NO IDEA how long I would've continued to hold on but for Dad's diagnosis. I'd been feeling like I needed to make changes for months (if not years) at that point, but inertia, fear, overwhelm, and likely other stuff I can't even name, got in the way of me actually taking action to change. So for me, the full catastrophe was a cancer diagnosis of someone I loved.

Is it going to take a full catastrophe of your own to make the change(s) you are considering, which I'm guessing include "practice mindfulness meditation," since you're still here, dear reader?

Or are you going to be a little less stubborn than me and try the practices on for size?

If the answer is, "I'm ready to try the practices on for size," I invite you to get started by enrolling in Kitchen Essentials, joining us at a Weekly Sangha Sit, and/or stopping by the Kitchen Forum to connect with others in our community.

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