This past week I taught an Introduction to Mindfulness course through our community’s adult education program. This topic is a delight to teach for many reasons, some of them quite “selfish.” When I prepare for a Mindfulness course, I immerse myself in the readings of the “masters” - Jon Kabat-Zinn, Eckhart Tolle, Tchich Nhat Hanh, Jesus, Buddha, Raj. This is real life work, and taking extra time to focus on the practice of (and benefits from) Mindful Living reverberate through to my family, community, and beyond. Frankly, it is one of the most fun courses I’ve ever taught, primarily because it is accessible HERE, NOW, with no homework, no group projects, no preparation. Life is the preparation, and the practice is simply Paying Attention and Waking Up!
As I was introducing myself, I found myself sharing that life had handed me two big opportunities for learning and practicing mindful meditation. The first was my diagnosis with diabetes in 1997. Since diabetes requires 24/7 care, it is absolutely essential to live mindfully if I want to live at all…And since I do want to not only live, but to Live Well, with energy, focus, love, joy, contribution and connection, I have many many reasons to care for my diabetes, and to care for myself tenderly and mindfully.
Life’s second big opportunity for mindfulness (did I need another?!) was the unexpected pregnancy with twins, when my first daughter was only 13 months old. When the wee ladies arrived, I had three daughters under the age of 21 months. Talk about a need for mindfulness!!! I remember driving to the NICU to finally bring them home, after 4 weeks of allowing their lungs and hearts to mature, I told my husband, “I really want to be better (than I was for our first child) at paying attention to what the girls are trying to communicate; I want to really know what they need, and I think I can do that by just slowing down more and really getting to know them.” Nice idea…then, reality came, and there was very little “slow down” time, or so it felt. I never got more than 4 hours sleep in a row for nearly 18 months; I barely recall a good majority of the first year, but somehow in there I managed to nurse twins (one of whom did not take a bottle!), potty train and entertain a toddler, settle in to a new home, resume a yoga and exercise routine, and keep my A1c below 7.0 (nursing really helped with this…) - but, was I particularly aware of much of anything??? Not as often as my mindfully-over-achieving self would have liked to be.
I realize now that diabetes was really my first child, and it has taught me a lot about “taking care” of those things that are truly priorities. Not that I am by ANY means “expert” at this. You will NOT find me writing a column about organizing your life, or prioritizing made simple, or parenting made easy. Far from it! But Mindful Living, which is truly about “paying attention”, is how we live when we are managing our diabetes well! It is how we live when we are truly hearing what our child (or spouse, or friend) is saying. It is how we live when we listen to that voice inside us instead of squelching it with food or alcohol or another superficial chat or exchange that, rather than nourish our soul, muffles it. Listening to, and honoring, our souls, our highest self, can allow the truest priorities to rise to the top, dissolving the others to their relative place of (in)significance.
Last year, a dear mentor asked me a simple question, “What are your requirements?” Surprisingly, this allowed me to let go of A LOT that was occupying my time - things I thought I had to do, but when it came down to it, were not “required” in my life. That left a lot more space for meditation, and for meaningful connection with my self, my family, and the friends most near and dear to me at this time. I re-visit this question a lot, and it, too, applies in our diabetes care. What are our Diabetes Requirements?? This question brings me back to my integrity.
Now that my twins are four and their “big” sister nearly six, I can shower uninterrupted; I can (sometimes) sleep an entire night, and I can carve out some space for myself to reflect on this journey we’re all on, mindful or not. I have the “luxury” of creating a work-life that involves such questions and answers, because really, what else is there?
As we are all being called to service by our president and by the times and challenges of our world, we need to remember, too, to put the proverbial oxygen masks on ourselves, so that we may better breathe and serve those we love and others who benefit from our health and wellness. One of my top requirements - priorities - is to care, lovingly, for my health. I hope yours is too!