“With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
My self-esteem is not high. It was as if I had just woken up from a lecture at the university nearby.
It had been a long time since I realized this, and it was striking me strongly that day. We were studying the Sayings of Buddha while I taught a class in Asian philosophy. A passage on a monk monitoring his feelings was the topic of our discussion.
According to the passage, happy emotions were what the monk knew. He knew when he felt unhappy, and he could tell if he was having those feelings. As the monk continued his daily activities, the passage said that he was paying attention to his own actions. He knew that he had been cutting wood. If he sweeps the floor, it is clear that he knows he is doing so.
According to the Buddha, such mindful awareness helps reduce our suffering.
One of my students said, “I don’t understand. How is this supposed to be helpful?” I didn’t have an answer. Being honest with myself I found that my actions and feelings were slow and repetitive. I told my student I didn’t know the answer to his question but that I would think about it and get back to him.
As I was walking to the bus after class, I thought, “If I don’t think about my feelings and actions, what do I usually think about?” I realized that I was usually thinking about everything but the present moment.
A past regret would be something I think of often. Sometimes, I thought about the future. I would spend a lot time looking at my life, trying to find everything wrong or right about it.
On the way home on the bus, I realized I had thought of everything but myself. And that’s when it dawned on me. I’m not my best friend.
When I saw that my friends were treated the same as me, it was obvious to me that I wouldn’t listen when they spoke to us. Instead, I’d be thinking about the past and worrying about the future and finding fault in them and everyone else.
And that’s not how I treat my friends. My friends are my most important people. I am there to support them in times of need, listen to their problems, and give them encouragement whenever possible. It is important to me that I am a good friend.
My friends would be treated the same way I treat my own family members, which was a terrible thing. It would make them feel like I didn’t care about them or that I even hated them. That shocked me as it made me realize that if this behavior was detrimental to friendships, then it could be damaging to my own relationships. So it’s not surprising that I am often stressed out, anxious, unconfident, lacking self-worth and feeling unworthy. It was time to make a change.
The next day I found myself in my office, thinking back to all of this. A moment of inspiration led me to place my hand on my heart, and I pledged that I would be my best friend, be there, and listen.
Surprised, I experienced a huge weight drop on my shoulders. It brought me to tears. In that moment I realized, among many other things mindfulness can help us be our best friend. This was something that I’d needed for quite some time.
Mindfulness allows you to be present in the moment, observe your feelings, take stock of what’s going on around you, and allow yourself to notice how it is all unfolding. Mindfulness allows us to do all this by paying attention with gentle, loving and compassionate eyes. These are the best gifts anyone can give themselves or others.
Informally, and formally, mindfulness has been a part of my life since that summer. As I live my day I make an effort to remain present, to pay attention to my surroundings and to my emotions. I find this helps me to feel more calm, focused, and happy.
One summer, for example, many years back, I felt particularly anxious. When this happened, I stopped what I was doing and sought out the answers. Surprisingly my inner and outer worlds gave me a very clear message. They told me, ‘You have been inside far too much lately, and you need to go outside more.”
My inner voice was telling me to stop and I began walking every day in the nearby forest. My anxiety and stress levels began to decline, which surprised me. I also felt calmer. These daily walks remain a part of my self-care routine and were particularly helpful in the stressful times of the pandemic. Mindfulness was the key to my realization of how essential it is for me to maintain a healthy self-care routine.
In order to pay attention to my breath and my awareness, I’ve tried pausing in the day. Sometimes I practice by closing my eyes, taking ten deep breaths and focusing on them for a few minutes. And sometimes I listen to guided meditations that help me relax, tune into my thoughts, and to notice the tension I’m holding in various parts of my body.
No matter how chaotic my day, moments of intentional awareness can be a refuge. These moments help me to reconnect with myself, and to set the intention of being my best friend. They leave me feeling refreshed, happy, calm, and ready for the next chapter.
Since the start of my classes at a college, I’ve been sharing moments of silence with students for the past few years. As soon as class starts, I shut off the lights and ask them to sit quietly with me. For a few moments, I ask everyone to pay attention to their breathing. Students are not forced to sit silently for a moment. They are only asked to be quiet so that others may practice.
I often share short, encouraging thoughts with them before they go into silence. They are reminded that they are capable, worthy, connected and called to adventure. They can be friends with themselves and connect meaningfully to the present and the world.
My students are so open to silence. Peace and stillness are achieved in class. Students often close their eyes to focus on the breath and take a deep, peaceful breath. Many others just relax and look around. The moment ends in silence and we are reenergized to continue our discussion or study.
Many students comment on how the silence gives them peace and allows them to transition into class. One time a student wrote on an evaluation, “Thank you for reminding us of our worth.”
The contemporary culture of today is noisy, chaotic, fragmented, and frenetic. The hyper-competitive culture can lead to us battling each other. It is very easy to lose sight of what matters most in such an atmosphere.
Mindfulness taught me the important lesson that my primary goal in life is to not do or have more. It is my primary purpose to be my friend and enjoy every moment.
Shelly Johnson holds a doctorate in philosophy and is a writer. She is passionate about how people can love themselves and others better, and bring positive change to the world. Georgetown College is her home. Love is Stronger is the blog she wrote. She is also the author of three books on logic and critical thinking—Argument Builder, Discovery of Deduction and Everyday Debate.
Join the conversation. To leave a comment, click here
Tiny Buddha’s first post, How Mindfulness helped me become my best friend appeared on Tiny Buddha.