Shonda Moralis
Source: Shonda Moralis

It is early Monday morning, my eyes barely-opened slits sensing the radiance of warm sunshine from the bedroom windows.  Through a haze of sleepiness I wonder why it seems much brighter than usual for a typical weekday pre-alarm time.  I peer over at my ancient clock radio, my brain slowly registering with dismay that I have overslept by an entire sixty minutes.  Grumbling a string of inappropriate choice words, I throw off the covers and leap out of bed.

Adrenaline surging, heart racing, and breath quickening, I run to wake up my daughter, let the dog out, and make my way desperately to the coffee maker.  Rushing around, I spill the milk, curse again and will myself to take a few deep(er) breaths. I shower without any recollection of shampooing, my mind frantically cataloging what needs to get done if I am to make it to work on time.

Wrestling my toddler into his clothes (similar to what I imagine it’s like to wrestle a ‘gator), I hastily offer the single blue M&M used as guilty bribery for potty-teaching.  He savors it like a lollipop, bright blue drool covering his hands, mouth, and shirt.  I decide whoever designed the “new blue” M&M is clearly not a parent of young children and I curse her, too.

Changing my toddler (again) out of his blue-stained clothes, I manage to get my daughter to the bus stop; my son, the dog and myself out the door on time, in record time, and I finally take a few full breaths as our car merges onto the highway. 

Whoa…THAT was exhausting.  And it’s barely 7:15 a.m.

I allow my shoulders to drop and begin to breathe more deeply, which my son then dramatically and comically imitates from the backseat.  I chuckle, start to relax, and realize as I slowly come back to my senses just how unnecessarily frenzied the past hour has been.

And in that moment of settling I notice the glaring disparity between this morning and those in which I’ve begun my day with mindfulness meditation.  Frantic versus calm, automatic pilot versus savoring moments, the unending hamster wheel versus a steady, sustainable pace.

Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist researching the benefits of mindfulness meditation, reports in his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain how “Mindfulness trains the brain in new forms of responding to experience and thoughts.  Whereas the thought of how much you need to accomplish tomorrow…used to trigger a panicky sense of being overwhelmed, mindfulness sends thoughts through a new culvert: You still think about all you have to do, but when the sense of being overwhelmed kicks in, you regard that thought with dispassion….You step back from it and let it go, realizing that allowing it to hijack your brain won’t help.  Mindfulness retrains these habits of mind by tapping into the plasticity of the brain’s connections, creating new ones, strengthening some old ones, and weakening others.” 

What I know to be true experientially is what scientific research now proves— that mindfulness meditation literally changes the brain.  This reinforces my commitment to practice daily as well as teach others how such simple practices can transform the feel and pace of our moments and, therefore, our entire lives.

Take a brief thirty seconds and give it a try.  Right here, right now.

  1. Pause and become aware of sensations in your body.  Do you notice tightness anywhere?  Are your shoulders raised up toward your ears?  Is your brow furrowed?  Can you soften those areas?  
  2. Now relax your belly, noticing it rise and fall as the breath naturally comes and goes. Count it rising three times.  If your mind wanders (which happens to everyone), simply return your attention to the breath and begin again.  Each time your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the sensations of breathing in the belly.
  3. Congratulations. You have just practiced mindfulness meditation.  Increase this time to five minutes a day and see what unfolds. 

Over time, you will likely notice more patience, more calm, and more ease.  We could all use a bit more of that, no?  Mindfulness is not magic.  It does not remove the blue stain from the clothing or the spilled milk from the counter, but when practiced regularly, it does shift our perspective from one of urgent and frantic to that of a more realistic, less life-threatening view. 

And no matter how much mindfulness I practice—those blue M&Ms? still not a fan.

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