Updated: May 31
LIFE IS LIFE
For years, I have struggled with insomnia, migraine, exhaustion, multiple digestive disorders, and even depression. I was living on Advil and anti-depression pills. What at first were random discomforts started to become recurrent. So much so, that I had come to believe they were part of my life. I started to see those areas as weaknesses in my constitution, as parts of my heredity and, I thought there was nothing I could do about it. I was so entangled, that I stopped noticing it at some point. I was like a fish swimming in its bowl that doesn't notice the water because it is all it knows. Moreover, I was convinced that it was how life was for everyone. In my perception, everyone was experiencing, more or less, the same kind of issues and they were still going forward. So, I should too. That's what I did: I was working (a lot), raising my kids, trying to exercise at least twice a week, keeping on with a social life, and living at 100 mph.
Over time, the struggles transmuted into a permanent state of suffering. More than just physical symptoms, I was experiencing a global feeling that life itself was against me, a feeling of immense emptiness, like falling into a bottomless pit. I felt I was always running out of time, always being rushed. Every situation I was encountering was a problem that I needed to fix. I was tensed, angry all the time and, I resented the whole world. All day, all the time, I could feel the pain deep in my chest, an unpleasant pressure on my sternum. I didn't know it at that time, but I was suffering from chronic anxiety and was in a constant state of profound despair.
I tried different things to find meaning in my life and feel better: from relaxing in a warm bath with essential oils to receiving a 90-minute massage, from taking a babysitter for one night to enjoying a full week on an all-included resort on the beach, from jogging to yoga, from journaling to psychotherapy sessions. I even changed jobs more than once in the hope of getting closer to my happiness. All of that was helpful at times and helped recharge my internal batteries to keep going on. But, the results never lasted long. As soon as whatever the distraction was over, as soon as I was reintegrating into my life, I could feel the sticky coat of misery falling over my shoulders.
Up until that day, I scared myself. Up until the day, I realized I was flirting with the idea of taking my life.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness literally saved my life. It changed everything. It brought space and light into my life. It felt like I finally pulled the curtains and widely opened the window and been struck by the bright and warm presence of the sun and been filled with the fresh air of an early spring morning.
The simple definition of being mindful is to be attentive to what is happening in the present moment just as it is. It combines two elements: a mindful presence and a mindful response. Let's look at the first part of this definition: to be attentive to what is happening in the present moment. It is a strange definition because we ARE always present in the moment when things happen to us. Well, at least we are physically present. But what about our mind? For me, I remember being regularly pulled into the fantasy of my thoughts about any potential "danger" that could happen. I was making up scenarios worthy of the best movies. It is a superpower of our mind: being able to trick us and make us believe that we are either back in the past or projected in the future. But we are here, now. But our mind brings us into an illusionary space and makes us believe that the fantasy is real. And when this happens, we are experiencing the same bodily sensations as if it is happening for real. For our body, there is no distinction between reality and the scenario in our head. Our body doesn't respond very well in that illusionary place, or maybe it responds way too well! Constantly triggered by those supposedly dangerous situations, we can't be at ease. Then, dis-ease appears in our body and un-ease gets into our mind. That's exactly what happened to me.
The second part of the definition says that being mindful is to be attentive to what is happening in the present moment just as it is. Not only do we want to fully meet our experience, but we want to do it in a non-reactive way. To express a mindful response. This non-judgmental attention is the essence of mindfulness. It requires curiosity and openness. It requires us to put aside what we like and what we don’t like, what we want and what we don’t want. It requires us to forget about our preferences. Being non-reactive implies that we can observe and acknowledge the nature of our experience without being entangled in it. It is the same mindset as being a child that discovers something for the first time and has no opinion about it. The idea is to stay present for what is happening to us without giving our thoughts or emotions the power to disturb us.
So, being mindful means being at the center of our life. To be fully available to what is happening right here, right now. The idea is to bring our focused attention to our bodily sensations, our breathing, our feelings and emotions, thoughts and beliefs without getting drawn by the pull of our fantastic illusions that are just happening in our head or our preferences. Instead of being a passenger, we reclaim the driver's seat, from where we can, in a conscious effort, decide that we are not going there.
But mindfulness is not only interior attention. Mindfulness offers us an alternative way of facing personal challenges and the inevitable ups and downs of life. It allows us to meet a wide range of experiences with grounded balance. Furthermore, mindfulness shines a light on our relationship with others and the life of the world around us.
HOW TO PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
I believe that mindfulness is intuitive and natural and that we all share this basic ability.
No one ever taught us how to be attentive, how to put our focus on one thing or another. But we have this faculty. It is available to us at every moment. But I believe that to expand our ability to be mindful, certain conditions are needed. The solution to our suffering can't come from the same place that causes the suffering. If we keep going on with our busy life, filling every single minute of it, it is unlikely that we will be available to experience mindfulness. That's what practices like meditation and Qigong offer. They offer a way to quiet the mind and open the heart, to touch the silence and fragility of our humanity and give us a taste of perfect peace.
But healing won't come overnight. It takes patience. When I first started to meditate, I couldn't last more than 10 minutes on the cushion. And during those 10 minutes, my mind galloped at full speed without ever being able to stop. But maybe despite everything my body felt some kind of benefit from it since something pushed me to come back to it every day. With perseverance, I came to hold 30 minutes without moving, keeping my mind as quiet as I could. I was not successful every day and still am. But each morning session leaves me better. So, I keep going.
I fell in love with Qigong after attending my very first session. After about an hour of slow movements synchronizing with the breath, using intention and imagination, I could feel that a shift had happened in my body. I was astonished. How such a simple and accessible practice could bring such results? I thought I found a kind of magical practice. Each subsequent session allowed me to acutely feel the subtle sensations inside my body and to tune into my emotions and my thoughts like never before. The practice of Qigong gave me new insights into the innate powerful healing ability that each of us has access to. My body was in a good shape and my mind had finally calmed down.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. For me, sitting meditation, Qigong, and immersion in nature are my refuges, the ways I found to access, increase and maintain my conscious awareness. It is how I tap into my own resources, my inner power to heal myself daily and keep moving forward. Each individual has the opportunity to stop and include in their life the best practices that fit them the most to reach a more permanent mindful state.
JUST BEING ALIVE IS ENOUGH
Since I started to practice meditation and Qigong and I have integrated mindfulness into my day-to-day activities, life has completely changed. I sleep better, and I have no more headaches. Even my digestion is doing a lot better. But beyond the decrease in physical pain and discomfort, what is remarkable is my state of mind. I feel better. I do more things that I like, with more energy and at the end of the day, I still have time to enjoy my family. Life is no longer a burden and I can once again consider myself playing a role in the larger web of life. My relationships with others have improved and I now express more gratitude and compassion.
Through my experience, I have learned that mindfulness is the medicine to overcome our suffering and our pain. And as I said before I believe we all share this basic consciousness, the light that illuminates the mind and the heart. For me, mindfulness is life. Being alive is being conscious, being mindful. So, mindfulness is life. And just to be alive is enough. And today, I am fully alive.