Relaxation, Mindfulness, and Meditation
Many of us suffer from FOMS (Fear Of Missing Something) so we approach life as series of manic, highly active episodes thinly sandwiched between inadequate layers of sleep. We continually pump our systems full of adrenalin and cortisol (and when those fail, more caffeine), and when those chemicals build to toxic levels we turn to pills to counteract the harmful impact of the stress we’re holding in our bodies.
If you believe that living in an always-on world requires that YOU be always on, it can feel like a character flaw to let go and relax. But hey, what’s your story about relaxation? That it’s a sin? A failure? A weakness? Let’s challenge that.
RELAXATION is a natural state of peacefulness and unwinding. When you relax you shift from pushing out energy to taking it in. Relaxation is your gateway to restoration, regeneration, and healing in all domains (mind, body, spirit).
Sleep is one human strategy to restore, heal, and regenerate. But if the only time you rest is when you are unconscious, you never develop the capacity or skill to respond to crisis or pressure.
MINDFULNESS is the art of Attention and Awareness to what you are doing and how you are being in any moment. The goal of mindfulness is to improve your experiential knowledge of your self and your life for the sake of being able to CHOOSE. For example:
- The more you are aware of your thinking, the more capacity you hold to choose a different story or change how you look at a situation.
- The more you are aware of your emotion(s) the more options you have to choose one that better serves you (e.g. perseverance instead of anger), or to nurture one that might otherwise miss (like happiness or contentment).
- The more awareness you have of/in your body, the greater your capacity for noticing when you need to move (or stop moving), eat (or stop eating, or eat differently), or sleep (because you are tired!).
When you become more mindful, in other words, you become better at noticing when you need to relax because your system needs regenerative time.
Jon Kabat-Zin defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the moment, and non-judgmentally.” You can be mindful about anything. For example, you can breathe on purpose. You can eat with mindfulness. You can be mindful about walking down the hallway, brushing your teeth, reading a bedtime story to your kids, or sitting with your pet after a long day at work.
By the way, Mindfulness is not the same as meditation. Meditation is a powerful tool to help you train your mindfulness “muscles” but it is hardly the only tool.
Because mindfulness is a human skill, you don’t need any training – just intention! CHOOSE to do something on purpose and be present to the fact that you’re doing it.
Back To Beer
By now you may be thinking, “yes, Jim, this is all very nice, but WHAT ABOUT THE BEER?” I learned long ago that any activity could be a mindful one. Breathing with mindfulness was an early practice, of course, and beer played an important role in my development.
Back in my corporate days I was on the executive team for a large restaurant company, just as the craft beer movement crossed over from homebrewing hobbyist appeal into the mainstream, and beer tastings became a “thing.” My whole experience of beer to that point was essentially Coors and Budweiser and the “light” versions of lager beers.
And I hated beer. Prior to my first formal tasting of Belgian ales, my only distinctions around beer were: Awful, Tolerable, or Where-can-I-dump-this?
The cicerone (beer sommelier) who led that first session taught us a mindfulness exercise (though he certainly did not use that term!) for experiencing the beer. One approaches fine beers as one does fine wines; first, sense it through the eyes. Then engage the sense of smell, then feel it on the tongue, taste it, experience it as it enters the mouth and belly, then create a story about it.
Over the years (and thousands of craft beers later) I now have access to a far broader set of distinctions, e.g. hoppy, boozy, light/heavy, sour, grapefruity, smooth, coffee, chocolate, coconut, sweet, strong, bitter, floral, or smoky, just to name a few of my favorites.
And every time I experience a beer this way, I am practicing the art of attention and awareness, aka being Mindful.
You can substitute any activity for beer tasting, of course. You can do the same with chocolate, marinara sauce, or daal, with reading a book, getting dressed for work, engaging in conversation, or even shopping or completing a spreadsheet.
And again, every time you practice mindfulness you strengthen your awareness of self and expand your capacity to notice where you are in any moment. From there you can CHOOSE – to move forward or step back; to remain in tension or to relax and regenerate.
When unaware you remain stuck where you are. Practice being mindful and you expand your options.