When I was first exposed to mindfulness practice it was Buddhist in nature. Theravada Buddhism to be exact; as there are many different traditions in Buddhism. As someone who was raised Catholic, I felt I had a choice to make, and working in a Catholic school I felt I needed to be careful how I spoke about my new practice (not that you have to be Catholic to work in a Catholic school). Even though my Buddhist mentor consistently advised me that there was no need to choose, I was rigid and content on doing this right!
I eventually had a group of likeminded people coming to my house on Sunday mornings to “sit.” Sitting involved just that – sitting. We would sit and meditate mindfully for 20 – 40 minutes. We would then break for tea or coffee and return to listen to a Dharma (teacher) talk for another hour or so. It was. . .enlightening. Unfortunately, I never let go of my struggle of choosing.
In 2009, my sister was diagnosed with Leukemia, and the next couple of years were filled with her extreme illness, and eventually her death, and the illness and death of other people in my family of origin. I was busy planning Catholic funerals and had lost the ability to “sit.” My sister actually said at one point in her illness that she didn’t really want a Catholic funeral, but this was early on, and I could never really get her to engage in actual plans of her passing (she really thought it wasn’t going to kill her). So I did what any good Catholic daughter would have done – I planned a Catholic funeral knowing this is what our mom needed. I have said often that I love the way Catholics do death. There is hope and peace present in a Catholic funeral.
I finally felt the veil of grief lift slightly in the late summer of 2013. The intense waves finally subsided to dull pangs. I once again was called to “sit.” Death and life does something to you (if you are lucky); there are lessons in all of it. I wasn’t so rigid anymore. I didn’t feel called to one particular Tradition. In fact I discovered American Buddhism and a Mindfulness Practice that had gained much popularity since I had last practiced. These practices were less spiritual – more psychological. I didn’t feel defensive, upset, or rigid about it.
Once again on Sundays, a group of folks gathers at my home to “sit.” Some are Christians, some are Buddhists, some simply know there is a God and they aren’t it. We all believe that slowing down, creating space between our feelings and others’ feelings, and not taking things so personally helps us grow emotionally and spiritually.
Even though I am not suffering from the intense waves of grief, sitting is not easy. Life is still difficult, so sitting with it can be difficult too. Even though it’s difficult, I’m surprised to hear people say they can’t do it. It is just sitting. Mindful sitting, however, allows me to watch my thoughts. In watching my thoughts I see the vulnerabilities in me and how they can be stirred by people I encounter in my life. When this happens I become angry, sad, proud, frustrated, etc. My first reaction is to blame the person that stirred me, but in sitting, I see it is me being stirred. By sitting and seeing this mindfully, I can usually stop acting out in the ways I used to.
After all of these years, I still don’t do it right, but I now know that doing it right isn’t at all the point. Doing it is the point. That is progress. Living mindfully brings peace to myself. . .and to those I encounter. I’m still Catholic although I do enjoy going on silent Buddhist retreats. I think Jesus would be a big fan of mindfulness.