Mindfulness is a buzzword in the health and wellness community, but translating it into our own daily routine is easier said than done. Our #MindfulMornings series takes a deep dive into what mindfulness means to the yoga and meditation gurus hosting Quiet Mornings, a mindfulness-plus-art series taking place this year at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Their experience with mindfulness and meditation may help you define it for yourself.
EVERUP: What does mindfulness mean to you?
Lodro: Mindfulness in the traditional sense is becoming presently aware of what is happening in this moment. So mindfulness meditation is a way we prepare the mind and body to actually tune into our life more often and really experience it.
When did mindfulness become something that you actively tried to practice and why?
So, I was actually raised in the Shambhala tradition, so I started mediating when I was about 6 years old, and I started doing weekend retreats when I was 11, so it was relatively early on that I started practicing.
Did you encounter any roadblocks or struggles when first attempting to be more mindful? Was it hard to cultivate?
I started teaching meditation when I was back in college and it was a difficult time to maintain a practice. There are so many distractions: I was on my own for the first time and I had lots of events and classwork and things like that, so I feel like from my own experience during that time it was just trying to find the right balance of the right time, space, and amounts of time I could do it everyday that was reasonable. And I’ve found that with all of the meditation students that I’ve worked with over the past 15 years that it’s really getting the consistency down that’s so hard in our modern life; to find the ability to find a consistent space, consistent amounts of time, time of day, etc.
Is finding that one consistent time everyday crucial?
I would say a couple things. Finding consistent amounts of time each day—I recommend starting with 10 minutes a day. A consistant time of day is also really helpful. It doesn’t need to be like, 8:02, but for me it’s like, I walk the dog, I get ready for the day, shower, then I practice, right? Building it into your existing routine is helpful. Also consistent space: it can just be a corner of your home. We’ve got two MNDFLs at this point and one on the way so people can have a consistent quiet space to meditate. And then consistent pacing. For a lot of actions, if you do it 11 days in a row it starts to becomes habit forming. So just getting to that point where it starts to become normal to you, that this is something you do, something you schedule in, then all of a sudden its like “oh, it’s just an organic part of the day.”
Was there a certain time of day or space that helped it become habitual for you?
I think generally mornings, just because it’s the idea of doing it before the activity of the day really gets going. If I check my email and answer five of them, I am less likely to have my mind quieted to where I feel like I’m getting the benefits of meditation. But if I do it before I enter all productivity, I’m more likely to do it.
What are some other ways that you actively cultivate and practice mindfulness?
One thing I recommend for people who say, “Oh, I have no time” is literally just to set the timer on your phone and maybe every half hour, every hour, when the timer goes off, hit pause, close your laptop, put down the phone and raise your gaze, connect with your body, connect with your breathe for just 30 seconds. Then as your mind starts to speed up go back into it, but it’s just taking a mindful pause throughout the day.
What about more active forms of meditation? Does running really count?
Applying mindfulness is really great, but we need a foundation to do it. It’s a little bit like, for example, “I’m really good at swimming, but I hate the pool.” Maybe you can do those motions really well, but it’s helpful to start in the pool, and then you can try and do it elsewhere. So the same thing with mindfulness; it’s great to apply mindfulness in doing different things, but you need to strengthen the muscles to actually know what mindfulness is before you mindfully knit, or mindfully go for a run.
Can you remember your first experience with meditation? What was it like?
I remember my parents being totally weirded out when they found me, they were like “what are you doing?” and I said, “I’m meditating.” They asked me what that meant and I said, “well, I just sat upright, and then I paid attention to my breathe and when I got distracted, I paid attention to my breathe.” And they said “Yea! That’s basically it.” So, it was just environmental at that point.
What effects did you see on your mental and physical health, productivity and/or creativity as you made mindfulness and meditation a part of your daily life?
For me it’s really more about showing up more fully present for my life. If I’m out with friends I’m actually listening to my friends; I’m meeting with a meditation student and I’m really hearing what’s going on with them; When I’m eating my food I’m actually showing up and tasting my food. That’s been the benefit for me personally, just allowing me to show up more fully and authentically for my life.
At a certain point you start to notice the subtle effects of meditation. Just like you don’t generally think about your health day in and day out, but the moment you get a cold you think, “Oh my God, I can’t breathe.” We take not having a runny nose for granted. We may notice we’re not as kind, or actually a little bit pissed off, quicker to anger, as a result of not meditating.
What do you think is the most common misconception about meditation?
That it’s an easy fix. That you can just do it once and immediately feel peaceful, when in fact it actually takes a long period of time. Scientists have proven the benefits of meditation ranging from stress reduction, to lower blood pressure, to better sleep, to better health, but these people have been meditating for two months. The fact is, I wish we could be able to do it really quickly and really easily, but unfortunately it’s not like that. You can’t expect to go to the gym once and lose 10 pounds, you have to make it regular in order to reap the benefits of it.
What convinced you to take meditation from a personal practice to something you taught others?
I never really wanted to, to be honest, but I was at university, and longed for a community to mediate with, and I put posters all around campus, and then all these people came and they wanted to meditate with me, but they didn’t know how to meditate. I turned to all my mentors and said we need to get somewhere over here quick, there’s so many people that want to practice, and they said “why don’t you do it? You’ve done all the prerequisites for a teacher training, go do it.” So I sort of reluctantly did it. And I’ve been reluctantly doing it ever since. It’s not like I’ve always had a passion for teaching meditation. But I know how helpful it is to me and I know it’s so important for other people to do, so if I’m able to make it accessible to other human beings I’m going to try it.
If someone is completely new to meditation and has reservations about giving it a try, do you have any tips or tricks that made it easier?
We’re doing this 30-day challenge right now [at MNDFL] where if you come in for 30 days in a row you get a 10-pack of classes on the house. So people are actually starting to come regularly and after those 30 days they really get to the point where they understand the benefits of meditation and can do it on there own. Group settings really hold us accountable for our practice. You can’t jump up and run through a wall like a cartoon if you know there are other people doing the exact same thing together.
What is your favorite success story from MNDFL?
One of my favorites is, the previous time we did this 30-day challenge in January of last year, we had this guy come in and he fell in love with the practice. He claimed he could never meditate, he was that sort of person. And after 30 days he said, “yea, maybe I’m a little bit more present, maybe I’m nicer, I don’t know. But I do know, at the age of 55, this is the first time in my life I actually feel like I know how to love myself.” That’s the kind of stuff that science isn’t tracking, but it’s even more important in my mind, that he can actually treat himself with kindness, as opposed to living a life where he’s perpetuating self aggression at all times.
Give us your 30-second elevator pitch for why we should all be making mindfulness (whether it is in the form of meditation or another daily practice) a part of our daily routine, and actively trying to cultivate it.
In addition to all of the wonderful benefits, reducing stress, normalizing our metabolism and allowing us to sleep better, there is something really powerful about knowing you are taking care of yourself to the point that you’re not only healing your body, but also your mind. I’m never the guy that’s like, “here’s all the reasons that you should meditate,” because I’d rather say, “just try it for yourself and see if it’s helpful.” That’s what the Buddha, 2,600 years ago, said before he taught: try this out, see if it meshes with your experience. After doing it for a number of weeks, see if it really does benefit you. If not, then don’t do it. That’s my anti-pitch.
Lodro Rinzler is a practitioner and teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. He is the author of six books including the best-selling The Buddha Walks into a Bar…, the award-winning Walk Like a Buddha, The Buddha Walks into the Office…, Sit Like a Buddha, How to Love Yourself (And Sometimes Other People) and Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice for the Heartbroken. After college he was recruited to the position of the Executive Director of the Boston Shambhala Center. He began leading numerous workshops at meditation centers and college campuses throughout the United States and to date has taught meditation at locations as diverse as Google, Harvard, and the White House. Lodro founded a leadership training program called the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, before co-founding and serving as the Chief Spiritual Officer of NYC’s premier drop-in meditation studio, MNDFL.
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