Someone is snoring behind me. Quite loudly, in fact. I want to turn around for a moment. Or laugh. But that would be counterproductive.
I'm sitting cross-legged on the floor with about 80 people, trying to follow Diana Winston's mindfulness meditation with my eyes closed. She is the director of the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (Marc) at the University of California in Los Angeles. She introduces us to mindfulness at a three-day retreat just outside Santa Barbara. It's the zeitgeist and should help you become more balanced and happy.
What is Mindfulness about?
Celebs like Emma Watson swears by it. And I want to learn it, too. Because I'm constantly glued to my smartphone, checking emails, studying my Insta posts, and stalking celebrities and influencers on Snapchat or TikTok before bed. When I'm not doing anything, I get lost in my thoughts, thinking about what happened yesterday or what's coming up. Switching off looks different. So now I am supposed to learn exactly that.
But what exactly is Mindfulness about? In one sentence: To live in the here and now. Or, in other words: to consciously experience every moment and every feeling – whether good or bad – and to try not to judge it. Serenity and compassion, for oneself as well as for others, is the maxim. That also applies to the snoring behind me. However, I find it difficult not to react to it. I feel disturbed. My thoughts are already racing against each other. And this dress, which I discovered on the fabulous Abbot Kinney shopping street, is also on my mind. In addition, the many flies buzzing around are annoying.
Mindfulness is the opposite of woo-woo
On the other hand, Diana remains relaxed and advises me to immerse myself in mindfulness when my thoughts wander. In general, the director of Marc radiates an incredible calm. She has something of a spiritual master.
However, you won't find incense sticks, and Shanti Shanti chants here: the retreat takes place in a former monastery in Santa Barbara, and everything is very spartanly furnished. We are not allowed to talk to each other in the group; silence is supposed to help us dive even deeper into mindfulness. Another no-go is to look directly into the eyes of the other participants, as this would distract us from the meditation.
It's relaxing to shut up
We, therefore, usually direct our gaze to the floor or look into the void. This is the case, for example, in Walking Meditation, a mindfulness practice in which we practice mindful walking. We walk the same route repeatedly, back and forth – at most twenty slow steps, each for himself, until a gong sounds. It sounds weird, and it is. We look a bit like the zombies from "The Walking Dead" during this exercise. Nevertheless, this mindful walking has a calming effect. It feels good to focus on something, count steps, and feel how the grass feels under your feet.
Silence has a similar effect on me: even though I want to chat with someone about my experience at this retreat or rant about the snorer, it's relaxing to shut up for a change. Not to try to get someone's attention, be liked by everyone, or worry about what others think of me. What counts is the moment. And how I deal with it. The other participants feel the same way, as they tell me at the end of the retreat. As soon as the silence is officially lifted, we chatter away like crazy, discussing how we have done here. All proud of not having broken the silence and somehow enlightened.
Trial and error
Three days of intensive mindfulness training are not enough for nirvana, but they are a start. And I learned that I could experience the moment consciously by not looking at my cell phone for a moment and scrolling through my Social Media accounts but paying attention to what's happening around me and consciously experiencing the moment without judging. Will I be able to do this in my everyday life far from the monastery in Santa Barbara? Honestly, I don't know. But I will try it, as constant praxis is vital.
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