I was recently invited to a cocktail party. I am a mother of two girls and when I’m not running around after them I am busy teaching yoga and meditation classes. Most of my days, you’ll find me wearing yoga pants and sporting a ponytail, so I was very eager at the opportunity to clean up a bit and put on a fancy little dress.
I fished out my 10 year old, black “cocktail dress” from the back of my closet and had Arielle, my teenage daughter, help me zip up the back. Success! It fit, but if I sneezed, I was in trouble. I dug a pair of black heels out of the closet that I hadn’t worn in 15 years. I decided, apart from the too chunky heel, they were still in style (the teenager did not agree). Next stop, hair. Arielle helped me with some ideas and “we” chose putting my hair in a loose, messy bun. Not my thing really, but fine. While she was rummaging around for a hair band, she knocked over a bottle of bleach (the cap wasn’t securely fastened). Quickly the focus shifted from hair-dos to mopping up the bleach off of the floor. Miraculously, and thanks to my finesse with a mop, not a drop landed on my dress, but some did manage to get on the bottom of my “fancy” shoes. No problem, so I thought. I shrugged off this inconvenience and even laughed a little at the glimpse of myself in the mirror mopping bleach in a black cocktail dress and heels. Finally, I got myself out the door and we were on our way.
It was pouring rain and we decided to take the bus to the party because we were going to enjoy some cocktails. From the bus stop to our friends home, a gust of wind and rain, blew my loose bun sideways. “It’s okay. I’m almost there.” I thought. Then, just a few short meters before we reached the party, I started to hear a “flap” each time I picked up my left foot. I looked down and the entire sole of my left shoe had completely peeled back and now resembled the shoe of a sad clown. At this point, I started laughing uncontrollably. Tears were streaming down my face causing my mascara to run in straight lines down my cheeks. Our friends greeted us at the front door; my husband, well-dressed and handsome and me, looking like a combination of Alice Cooper and a glammed up hobo.
So, what’s the moral of this story? Never wear heels after you stepped in bleach? Don’t let your teenager give you hair styling tips? Always use waterproof mascara? Maybe. No, the true lesson I learned from this experience is how the gifts of meditation and yoga spills over into my everyday life. It is exactly during these moments that I put my practice to the test. These seemingly small, insignificant moments are the moments when I can see how my daily practice effects the little and the big things in life.
These days, when something goes wrong, from a favorite coffee cup breaking, to receiving a large, unexpected bill; I can more easily rest into these moments. I rarely allow myself to unconsciously spin these moments into “problems.” Because, they are not. I don’t have to labels these moments as “bad” “unfortunate” or tragic.” They are just moments in my life.
Often, in my daily mindfulness meditation practice, I’m just sitting in awareness of my breath. Just being aware of my breath moving into my body, the short pause between my inhalation and exhalation and then the breath leaving the body (lather, rinse, repeat).
If my mind starts to run with a particular thought; maybe it’s a past conversation I had with someone or a future conversation I will have with someone; I gently, without labeling or judging, return my attention to my breath. The wandering mind can be very persistent at times (depending on what’s happening in my life). Some days, it takes a lot of effort to keep returning my attention to my breath, but those are moments to practice compassion with myself and those are the moments when I strengthen my awareness practice. Research shows that these are also the very moments that we are rewiring the brain for a better way to respond (neuroscience 101).
Yoga is another opportunity to practice simply being aware. When I practice yoga, I keep the attention focused on my body; how I feel in each pose and just observe where my mind is during each pose. Can I simply be aware of my body and breath as I move into each pose? When I can move beyond the past and future thinking that my mind enjoys monkeying with, the yoga becomes a one hour moving meditation.
When I practice these simple moments of awareness in meditation and yoga, I am practicing being the witness of whatever arises moment to moment to moment. The mind is like a muscle, the more you practice the more trained it becomes. As my “mindfulness” or “awareness” muscle strengthens, I’m more easily able to simply be the witness of anything that arises and leave the worry, judgement, labeling, and any past or future thinking behind. It is easier to not judge, label and be present when it comes to a broken shoe at a cocktail party. Less so, when it comes to financial burden or a sick loved one. But it’s the little moments which help us practice for the big moments in life.
With a regular mindfulness practice, like meditation or yoga, you will notice that when a difficult situation arises (as they do!), you will be better able to rest into the difficult moment and be more at ease in the situation, instead of struggling against it.