By Jeffrey Brantley, MD
I was recently invited to lead a mindfulness meditation session for a small group in a lovely outdoor garden behind the home of our group’s host and hostess. It was a beautiful day, and the group was mostly new to mindfulness, so I gave some brief instructions before releasing them to stroll mindfully through the garden for about thirty minutes on their own.
In the instructions, I reminded them they already had all they needed. They had mindfulness already within, and I was simply encouraging them to trust their natural ability to be aware, to let themselves rest in awareness and notice the input at each of their senses, including their thoughts. I suggested they open mindful attention to any of the sounds, sights, smells, and sensations they felt, and even include any tastes they experienced. I also encouraged them to “be wise” about their thoughts, by which I meant not to identify with thoughts, but to let themselves notice — becoming aware — of any kinds of thoughts that appeared without being caught up in them, or trying to argue with them, or get rid of them.
“Just notice the thoughts, and gently let them go,” I encouraged the group, “kindly and patiently bringing your attention back to the present moment, back to the experience arising through any of your bodily senses. Take the position of awareness and paying relaxed attention, watchful and allowing of all experience arising and passing through this moment, here and now. Letting yourself relax in awareness and noticing, mindfully experience what the garden has to reveal and to offer you in this moment.” I finished by inviting each of them to go off on their mindful stroll through the garden.
After about half an hour of silently and mindfully walking, standing, sitting, and experiencing the garden, we gathered back together.
“What did you notice?” I asked the group.
The hostess had a beautiful smile and a very relaxed appearance as she answered. “That was amazing!” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well,” she replied, “we have been restoring and repairing this garden for months now, and I have gotten so busy with the work here that I cannot come into the garden without focusing on something else I need to do. I have not been able to enjoy my own garden! But, for these last 30 minutes, I did enjoy it! I just told myself to relax, be mindful, and pay attention. And, I did! That was amazing! I actually took my shoes off, walked in the grass, heard the birds, saw the flowers, and smelled the earth. I enjoyed being in my own garden for the first time in months! Thank you, thank you!”
Such rediscovery of the richness and beauty in our surroundings, the experience of joy, and feelings of ease and connection within ourselves and with the world around us is always possible. As our hostess found out in her garden, the shift in perspective usually begins with an intention to pause, to rest in awareness, and to pay closer, allowing and welcoming attention to what is here, now.
There is a perspective or attitude encouraged in mindfulness practice called beginner’s mind. This refers to taking the position of seeing things — especially very familiar things, people, or situations — as if for the first time, like a beginner who has never experienced this particular situation before.
We are only human, and we cannot avoid the efficiency of our nervous system and brain to habituate to familiar situations and people. Habituation can be a good thing at times, but it can also become a filter and limit our responses and possibilities, too.
It is natural and easy to overlook the here and now fresh beauty of a garden because we have been too preoccupied for too long with the task of improving the garden. The same thing can happen when we are with another person. We can easily default into a previously held attitude, expectation, or judgment about them and not give them the benefit of full, open-minded attention in this moment, in this encounter.
Practicing with the spirit of beginner’s mind in each moment, with each breath, or with each step into previously visited territory, like one’s garden, or a relationship, one can begin to experience the familiar routine as something entirely fresh and new, and appreciate the depth, variety, and richness that is always there, waiting to be noticed.
Here is a brief mindfulness practice offered as encouragement for you to pause mindfully in the garden of your own life, in the everyday steps you take through the garden, and discover how noticing mindfully with the spirit of beginner’s mind can transform all of your relationships and inform your actions.
Pausing mindfully, resting in awareness, lightly sensing the experience of being in your body in this moment. Noticing any thoughts, gently letting them go, patiently returning attention to the present moment, back to the experience arising here and now through any of your bodily senses. Taking the position of awareness and paying relaxed attention to all experience arising and passing through this moment, here and now. Let yourself relax in awareness and experience what the garden of your life has to reveal and to offer you in this moment.
Jeffrey Brantley, MD, DLFAPA, is a physician, psychiatrist, mindfulness and meditation teacher, and author. He is an assistant consulting professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Duke University Medical Center, and is a founding faculty member of Duke Integrative Medicine, where he started and directed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) for fifteen years. He currently continues with Duke Integrative Medicine as a consultant, and leads or co-leads programs in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Training for Professionals, and mindfulness based programming. His most recent book, with Wendy Millstine, is Daily meditations for calming your angry mind: mindfulness practices to free yourself from anger, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, California, 2015. His website is: http://www.calmingyourangrymind.com
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