The weekend of my train adventure, and its purpose, was to go with my sister to a one day retreat on mindfulness. I define Mindfulness as an attitude of living, of being aware of the present moment, consciously aware of the here and now. Although many people put Mindfulness into the New Age category, there are science studies that confirm the health benefits.
The retreat location sat among trees near a lake nestled in the hills. Although it was near residential homes, the retreat center was an oasis of quiet peace with the rhythmic sound of a gentle waterfall and of meandering paths. For one day, I disconnected from the hectic pace of everyday life.
The day was a day of human silence, except for the leader’s rhythmic voice. The leader, Jerome Front, encouraged us to let go of expectations, as he led us through all types of meditations. The eating meditation involved eating in silence and we were to focus on the taste, color, texture, smell of each bit of food. “Slow down. Be aware of each chew.” There were no gourmet recipes: just lentil soup, build-a-salad, a wheat roll with a pat of butter, dessert, coffee or tea. I felt pampered having someone else do the preparing, cooking and cleaning up.
Another exercise involved lying down and focusing on the body from toes to head and back again. I was so relaxed, I may have fallen asleep. Throughout the day we moved from inside to outside, in silence. The sensory meditation involved sitting outside and observing. “What do you hear? What smell? See? Do you feel the gentle breeze across your skin? Feel the warmth of the sun on your arms?”
My favorite exercises were the two walking meditations. Have you every tried to be consciously aware of each four-part footstep? Shift-lift-swing-touch, 1-2-3-4, shift-lift-swing-touch. Left foot, then right foot. It was funny and surreal seeing all the participants slow down their walking as each person focused on each 1-2-3-4 step. This is Mindfulness. It starts as intense focus, repeated over and over, until it becomes a habit.
My favorite exercise of the day, the one that made me finally connect to the concept instead of being an outside observer, was the second walking meditation called the Peace Walk or Kiss Walk. Okay, this is sounding New Age but WAIT! this turned out to be extremely profound, maybe spiritual, but definitely powerful.
Picture in your mind a dirt pathway around a lake and grassy area. On the other side of the path there are trees and sometimes shorter walkways to sheltered areas with a bench or grotto. The trees are tall and overhanging, there are ducks on the lake, the path meanders down, around, up and over for about 3/4 of a mile. Something is in bloom, maybe jasmine, scenting the air. Whiff of pine, too. The light filters through the leaves. The meditation involves walking the pathway, focusing on each foot as it sets down to touch the ground. Now, imagine that each time the foot touches, the foot kisses the earth and each kiss heals the earth.
Again, all the participants moved in slow motion, surreal motion, but the day has been that way. I was in my own world as I placed each foot-kiss to the earth. Each symbolic foot-kiss, after foot-kiss may not have changed the world, but the healing went internal.
I’m renewed, at least for the weekend. As with any new habit, Mindfulness takes time and effort to develop. Since the retreat, I have not been able to carry out the same level of intense focus, but in small ways I have slowed down and I see more.
1. 1-2-3-4, Shift-Lift-Swing-Touch: Notice each movement (shift your weight, lift the foot, swing (stride) forward, touch to the ground and as one foot touches the ground the other foot has begun the cycle Shift-Lift-Swing-Touch).
2. Peace or Kiss Walk: In slow motion focus on each foot touching the ground in a gentle, progressively more gentle, touch. And focus the mind.