Our MBSR group is varied. Represented are retirees, professionals, a graduate student, and yours truly. Dr. Shutt encourages us to practice non-judgment with ourselves. Unlike other social situations, MBSR doesn’t focus on titles or achievements. In a world that is driven by seeking external approval, we are taught to go inward, truly feeling whatever comes up for ourselves.
At times, MBSR feels like a voyage to Shambhala. I can hear Three Dog Night playing in my mind and I think to myself, “Yes, this is it. I have found the answer.” Meditation sometimes makes me feel as light as a feather. I feel empowered to surrender, relax and go with life. Other moments come with greater difficulty. I go inward and see my character defects, my incessant striving, and disappointment with myself. I get trapped in the narrative of past failures, missed opportunities, and constant comparisons.
Four weeks into the class, I find myself comparing and striving during meditation and discussion. I feel inadequate. My shared thoughts feel so cumbersome in comparison to my classmates’ insights. I’m not in graduate school. I have neither produced children nor achieved any kind of success valued by our society. I have often felt like I am going nowhere in life.
As I began my descent into the darkest corners of my mind, one of my classmates brought me back to the present with a clever anagram. He shared that meditation refocuses you from nowhere to now here. Everyone stares ahead or looks behind; each generation strives for perfection. The thinking and wishing and regretting leads us nowhere. The solution is to settle the mind, connecting to the here and now.
How is success measured? Many have written books and dissertations on the subject. Although I may never measure up to what society has deemed as successful, on most days, I feel fairly confident that my greatest happiness will be obtained by learning how to live with great compassion and connection to the present moment. Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes in The Little Prince:
“Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?’ Instead, they demand: ‘How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’”
Mindfulness is teaching me how to look beyond the figures. The “essential matters” are the entirety of mindfulness – sounds, colors, feelings, sensations, etc. By anchoring ourselves to the present, we can learn how not to live as grown-ups, but truly grow up.