Practicing Mindfulness, Or: Look at me, I’m Meditating!

I’ve always had a hard time staying in the present. Not my physical self (as far as I know, time travel has not yet been invented) but my mental self. I’m always thinking about the future, things I need to take care of, what I still need to do for any projects I’m working on, and everything else in between.

I know I need to be more aware of my present, especially since always thinking about the future for things that aren’t in my control can be a source of anxiety, besides the fact that I can’t even quite enjoy a specific moment. For example, sometimes I’ll spend all week looking forward to an event, like a concert, but then when I’m actually there, I’m focused less on enjoying the performance in front of me and more on the logistics of getting home.

At Ta’leef Collective, an organization I go to for spiritual classes in Islam, they have a mindfulness class in which they work on meditation and being mindful of the present. I’m never able to attend their weekly classes but last week, they had an all day workshop on Practicing Mindfulness. I’ve been feeling a lot of stress these days so I figured that, despite my complete lack of knowledge in this realm, that it would be good for me to attend and aim to be present for once in my life.

The day took place in a park here in Fremont (one that I never knew existed) and after an introduction and readings about meditation, the teacher, Micah Anderson, who also teaches the class at Ta’leef, guided us into a meditation in which we sat and tried to clear our minds by trying to focus on an aspect of our breathing.

In the first session, I was successful for about two minutes.

My train of thought was as follows:

“Focus on breath, focus on breath, focusing… focusing… I’m meditating! Good thing I did some work beforehand because now I don’t have to think about [specific project]. Oh but now, I have to remember to do that one thing for that other project. Oh shoot, did I need to do the laundry?” And then, ridiculously, I already started thinking about a blog entry on this: “I’ve always had a hard time staying in the present…

We were all told though, right from the beginning, that our mind will automatically try to wriggle out of the state of emptiness so none of us should feel bad. I didn’t expect to hold onto 20 minutes in a row of a clear mind but even the total of two minutes where I was able to achieve that state was pretty awesome.

After a couple of meditation sessions I asked whether or not we are supposed to be doing something, maybe praying while we are focusing on our breath? No, was the response I got – we’re meant to empty our minds and just be aware of the present, the moment we were in.

Later, we also did some walking meditation, in which we focus on our step and try to meditate while walking. I admit, I wasn’t as successful with that method, preferring to sit and be mindful instead. I felt like there were too many distractions for me while I was walking but everyone is different.

Even though the workshop was given through Ta’leef, the class itself was taught in a secular manner without religion being brought into the equation. Towards the end of the workshop, one girl said that she found the workshop useful but wanted the instructors thoughts about how the meditation would help out her practice of Islam. He contemplated for a second and with respect asked about how would being aware not help every aspect of our lives.

I found so much wisdom in that. Yes, I can use the practice to help me be more aware in my five daily prayers as a Muslim but I also can utilize this to help me become more mindful at work despite working on a variety of projects or while I’m with friends and family, to help me be completely present in the moment I’m in.

It was a really good experience but I know now that this is something I’ll have to practice continuously in order to get better at it. I’ll try to make the weekly classes now and then and I can always just take a few minutes out from life day to day and try to rid my mind of excess thought, stresses, deadlines, email, Facebook, and anything in between.

Challenging, definitely, but I need to work at becoming more aware of my present and this is the best way to get started.

If you’re in the Bay Area and interested in this class at Ta’leef in Fremont, it’s offered every Monday from 7-8pm. Check it out.

A pic of Lake Merritt in Oakland, not where the workshop was though. I just wanted to add a pic of something serene looking :)
A pic of Lake Merritt in Oakland, not where the workshop was though. I just wanted to add a pic of something serene looking :)

4 thoughts

  1. Great post. I loved what the instructor says. Having a good deal awareness is something allowed to a very small percentage of human beings. When you say your prayers think about if you are focusing on the prayers or something else. When I pray, sometimes to focus, I need to say them aloud so that I can focus on what I am saying. I think this helps me internalize the message. I have had good discussion on what having awareness and being present means. It is tough to be present all the time. I think nowadays we really have to disconnect from technology and cameras. I love to take pictures of things, but then I question myself about how present I really am when do that instead of just being. We are human beings, not human doings, a friend always reminds me. Being present also means to feel whatever you are feeling; anxiety, anger, love, happiness. Sometimes sitting in emotions is a good way to be present. I feel when I am in the midst of a really happy emotion, sometimes I look around and see how different the world seems when I am really focusing on everything around me. It looks uber 3-D. To have good self-awareness to me, means to be mindful of all your actions and the outcomes of those actions. To get to this place you often have to stop and pause before reacting. That helps you get centered in the present and make a more rationale, and loving decision. I really like these topics. I have heard Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle say, the idea of meditation is to put space between all the thoughts we already have going on. We supposedly, think in upwards of 60,000 thoughts a day, often a lot of the same ones repeated over and over. The idea of meditation is to clear space in between those thoughts so that I we live in the NOW. Very nice post. Good luck with your practice. Remember that word, practice, because that is just what it is. A daily practice.

    1. I appreciate your thoughts Tony! I knew this would strike a chord with you :) I really do need to practice though – I definitely know that one day of doing this isn’t nearly enough! Got to get on it.

  2. I’m sure that exercise could help with prayer too. All too often I have the similar experience of “ok I’m praying… Wait I have to do such and such after instead of actually praying.”

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