I think I have been practicing some form of mindfulness my whole life, having grown up my first 11 years in the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York State, practicing mindful seeing, mindful listening, gratitude, savoring, and mindfulness of awe on nature trails, in the woods, hiking up mountains, or in the yard and gardens. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is credited with increasing the visibility of secular mindfulness practices in the West through the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programs he founded, has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. By focusing on the breath, the idea is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is moment to moment, and so help with pain, both physical and emotional. Mindful Schools, where I completed my year-long mindful teacher training, states that “mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment with openness and curiosity.”
Growing up gay, I also had to practice mindfulness of thoughts and emotions as I navigated that feeling of being somehow different from the mainstream dominant heteronormative culture, and then being “in the closet,” and living life somewhat inside of my head, censoring parts of my identity (becoming sometimes one or two dimensional depending on the safety of the environment I was in), until I had a better sense of how to be myself with enough safety and re-learned spontaneity to share the more integrated three dimensional person I am with the outside world. I still struggle to share my true three dimensional integrated self with others, especially when I am in heterosexual predominant spaces without intentional allies and people doing their work around heterosexual privilege and being anti-heterosexist. I find myself rarely in spaces where people are willing to de-center the narrative that positions heterosexuality as superior, and willing to understand the prevalence and impact of institutional, systemic, and familial heterosexism, heterosexual privilege, and internalized heterosexual supremacy from all of us growing up in a world that centered and supported the narrative of heterosexuality in images and institutions that positioned heterosexuality as the preferred/superior and systemically and institutionally supported norm.
Because of my own experience of oppression as a gay person, I have also learned to use mindfulness to manage the daily microaggressions that I experience living in a world that centers and privileges heterosexuality, and I have learned to use mindfulness to help me to work on my own white male privilege and how to be a better anti-racist and a better anti-sexist (among other ways that I may be oppressive to other marginalized people based on their and my identity, ability, etc.). I am committed to supporting others who experience oppression, working on my own privilege and how I oppress and cause microaggressions for others, as well as those who are working on their own privilege and wanting to support the change and healing that is needed within themselves and in the world, to learn how to use mindfulness as a tool for awareness, compassion, and change. And for those who are oppressed to recognize that it is not they who are broken, but rather the world that needs to heal from the impact of prejudice, discrimination, and all forms of oppression, as Ruth King in her book “Mindful of Race,” refers to racism as “a disease of the heart.”
Another experience in my life in which mindfulness was a tremendous support to me was in my late twenties when I had a form of cancer known as Hodgkins Lymphoma and underwent 4 months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation. It was then that I learned to use the power of visualization and the practices of mindful self-compassion, and mindfulness of thoughts and emotions to support me throughout my treatment process. Then, in my forties I began to experience the effects of degenerative disc disease in my back and neck, and after trying physical therapy and other forms of exercise, had to have surgery (spinal fusion) to relieve the pain and numbness caused by a herniated disc impinging on nerves that impacted my left arm and hand. This is a chronic degenerative condition in which I have learned ways of using my mindfulness practice to help support me in coping with the pain and discomfort and changing my relationship to the stress around it. There have been other challenging experiences and circumstances in my life, as well as just the demands of finding balance in daily living, in which I have found that mindfulness helps me to more skillfully navigate life’s challenges and has become an amazing support to my overall well being, stress management, and quality of life.
The mindfulness practices that I engage in and teach to individuals, couples, families, schools, and organizations include: heartfulness (compassion, gratitude, generosity, and loving-kindness toward self and others), breathing practices, mindfulness of sound, mindful listening and communication, mindfulness of thoughts and emotions (and working with the inner discourager and inner encourager), mindful arts, mindful walking/movement, body scan as well as relaxation techniques, mindful seeing, mindful eating, and visualization techniques.
If you are interested in learning how mindfulness can support you, your family, your school, or your workplace reach out to me to discuss the benefits and possibilities.
Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness
What is mindfulness? The founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction explains. Mindful Magazine, JANUARY 11, 2017
Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out Sounds True Boulder, CO 2018 By Ruth King
Tags: Advice, Mindfulness