A few days ago my friend Elizabeth Cohen led a day of meditation for a dozen people at our mountain cabin. Knowing we would spend time outdoors, I wondered what I would learn about my own nature from meditating on Mother Nature. My question was based on many synchronistic experiences which have taught me that these two natures are intimately connected.
In our everyday lives we are usually unaware of this connection. In fact, feeling separated from our maternal Source and inner self is the price we pay for ego consciousness: what Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding calls, “the taint of mortality, which is division within onself.” Yet experiences of mystics from every religion as well as recent findings from quantum physics point to a reality of Unified Oneness which runs beneath ordinary awareness.
Our ability to connect with Oneness is not a function of religious belief but of our psychological awareness, which, in turn, is a function of the way our brains are made and how we use them. For a scientific explanation of the brain’s role in experiencing oneness, watch this extraordinary video of brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor describing the unified state she experienced during a stroke. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for a stroke to receive this knowing but can approach it through the practice of mindfulness. This was the focus of our day of meditation.
“But,” you might ask, “why would I want to be more mindful? Experiencing oneness simply isn’t an important goal for me.” An excellent question! In fact, the benefits of mindfulness are not just about feeling a spiritual connection, but also about psychological, social and physical well-being. For example, living mindfully can reduce fear, anxiety and stress; lower blood pressure; strengthen the immune system; ease depression; strengthen self-esteem; build trust, compassion and peace; and create healthier, more satisfying relationships with food, our bodies, our work, our daily lives, nature and other people.
Elizabeth led us through several mindfulness meditations about different aspects of our lives. One redirected our negative self-talk into a kind and gentle self-acceptance. Another activated the love and gratitude we feel for special people and expanded these emotions outward like ripples toward friends, acquaintances, and even people we dislike. A third brought greater appreciation for every part of our bodies, beginning with the toes of our left feet and rising up to the crowns of our heads. One of my favorites was an exercise in mindful eating.
All of us gained something of value from this day. My biggest insight, and a good example of the deep connection between our inner and outer lives, occurred during an outdoor walking meditation. Our instructions were to walk very slowly with full attention to every movement and physical sensation. As one who does many things fast — walking, talking, cooking, cleaning up, driving — I found I could not do this without losing my balance. Then the metaphor spoke to me: Has rushing through my life been a way of escaping awareness of my personal imbalances? I think that for me it has. Since that epiphany, being mindful of the option to slow down has stuck with me and had a very satisfying balancing effect on everything I have done.
Whether our goal is spiritual oneness, psychological wholeness, or to live with more balance and happiness, living mindfully brings maturity into every dimension of our lives because they are all connected. How have you benefitted from practicing mindfulness? I’d love to know.