Last evening I caught up with one of my dear friends, Gary. In the course of our conversation he told me about an eight week mindfulness program he is undertaking at work. He proudly told me he was up to week three. Gary told me that so far it was OK, but he was longing for some practical application of this mindfulness stuff. “Just show me how to use it”, he said. I responded to him by quoting the famous line from the Karate Kid film- “patience, grasshopper”.
This conversation sparked me to sit down and pen this article. I could hear the impatience in Gary’s tone. I suspected, as a mindfulness teacher, I could do more to help guide my students in the practice.
For many people, just noticing whether they are present, fully attentive, to what they are doing can be a challenge. Why is this a challenge for some many? The way we currently understand how our perceptual and sensory systems creates our reality is by taking a series of sensory snapshots of our environment and constructing our reality of experience. These snapshots are not necessarily how the environment is, but more about how we see it and experience it. Snapshots are necessary, as we could not take in every detailed aspect of our environment in every moment.
Interestingly, the way we take snapshots and make representations of how our environment becomes habitualized over time. With this habit comes speed of observation, understanding and in some cases – an action or response. It also allows us to skim over the details of things that are familiar to us. Through this process our brains create faster, more automated and responsive neural networks. “Neurons that fire together- wire together”. Hence, whatever we regularly practice, whether it is intended or unintended, becomes our habit. What marvelous adaptive perceptual/sensory systems we have! Evolution has clearly set us up to adapt to many varying environments and situations.
When things change in our world, sometimes our minds still feel as though things shouldn’t or haven’t changed. An example of this is the feeling of unreality you can get when someone close to you dies or when the road intersection traffic light sequence changes for the first time in 10 years. We have difficulty accepting and managing the change. We expect things to be as they were. It’s like our attention has been captured in someway.
A way of describing our attention is like a torch or flashlight for those in the US. It shines a beam of attention on objects in our life. Like a torch, we can switch our attention “ON” and we can switch it “OFF”. We can FOCUS it on one object or we can focus it on many different objects in a short period of time. We can change the DIRECTION of our attention and even vary the INTENSITY of it. Often we focus our attention on objects outside of ourselves. As human beings we also have the capacity to focus our attention in TIME -in the PAST, in the PRESENT and in the unrealized FUTURE.
So, Attention= ON/OFF, FOCUS, INTENSITY, DIRECTION, PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE. How many of these do you use on a daily basis and which ones do you have active conscious control over? If I had a magic attention tracking machine and attached it to you- what would I see about your day to day attentional practices?
Is your attention captured by worries or concerns? Are you able to focus your attention on an object and hold it there without your attention wandering off? How frequently is your attention distracted by technologies, the environment, people or random thoughts that come up? How scattered is your attention when you multi-task or juggle tasks? How busy are you? Do you find yourself often rushing and getting stressed? Does your attention get regularly hijacked by your emotions?
The problem of all of these considerations above is that they regularly occur in our lives. Yet we are unaware of the repetitive impact they are having on our awareness, our attention, our intentions and our actions in the world. They contribute to wiring our brains to become more mindless. Even when we stop and rest, our minds are still thinking, planning, worrying, jumping from the past to the future without our conscious direction. We can even have difficulty switching our light of attention OFF- even when tired and trying to sleep.
You can only imagine what the impact of these attentional afflictions have on how we experience our life- moment to precious moment. In the words of William James, founder of modern psychology, “what we attend to becomes our reality”. This attentional affliction does not allow us to focus on the ingredients of our lives that genuinely make us happy.
This is the “WHY” in practicing mindfulness. John Bruna defines mindfulness as, literally, “presence of mind”. In other words, it is the ability to maintain a level of awareness of what is happening within us and around us without elaboration. The practice of mindfulness is much more than present moment awareness, it includes and facilitates the cultivation of concentration, wisdom and the ability to make healthy choices that foster genuine happiness and a meaningful life.” You can notice from this definition the focus of awareness of what is happening to us and around us in our lives.
To assist us all in this mindful awareness, we have developed an online community of practice called “The Mindful Life Community”. This community provides a practice community in the application and practice of the four foundations, or keys, of mindfulness.
In the Mindful Life Community, we undertake a daily attentional and intentional practice based on the four foundations of mindfulness – Attention, Wisdom, Values and an Open heart. One way members of the community receive support in this practice is by a daily mindfulness support email. In each daily email, they are invited to focus and reflect on one of the four foundations of mindfulness, reflect on how this relates to their life and how they could incorporate mindfulness practice into their day. This is supported by a daily activity and a weekly exercise that community members can use to build their mindfulness every single day.
If you haven’t joined the Mindful Life Community, I would encourage you to do so. It’s a great way to gain support in becoming more mindful in your life. You also might gain better control of your attention ——-ON, FOCUSED, BRIGHT, PRESENT.
Are you working for meaningful change in our world, dedicated to make our world better? Do you find yourself trying to make much needed change, perhaps against seemingly insurmountable odds? For 20 years, I worked in sustainable building, starting by wearing my tool belt on a jobsite, but always looking for the next way to make bigger impacts and more accelerated change. Eventually, the journey led me to travel widely, speak at a Congressional briefing and testify at national building code hearings. Part of what I learned in the process was not about sustainable building at all. It was that inner sustainability is the most important element of being able to do your outer work, no matter what it is.
Terry Tempest Williams, a well-known author, in a talk to college students, asked them to consider as they moved into their chosen careers not what they can do, but who are they becoming in the process. As we work for positive change, in whatever realm we find ourselves, it’s an essential consideration. Inner sustainability includes resilience, a deep sense of inner well-being, and the ability to make healthy choices. Some on the front lines of change are discovering that they can cultivate inner sustainability with the tools of mindfulness.
Mindfulness help us to reconnect our attention and intention, that alignment that often gets watered down or lost altogether over the long haul, even for those as committed to meaningful change as you or I. While we may start out with strong and clear intentions based on our values, there are many things that can derail us or distract us, and many reasons we may become distanced from them. Mindfulness can be described as a state of non-forgetfulness, as in not forgetting what is most meaningful to us and acting in alignment with that.
Genuine happiness, that inner flourishing that allows us to be resilient in our outer work, does not come from other people, activities or things. It comes from living a meaningful life – a life that is in alignment with your values, your deepest intentions and is beneficial to yourself, others and the world. When we practice mindfulness, we remember what is meaningful to us, what our values are, moment to moment, day to day. This is what allows us to show up in a way we feel good about then and later. It helps us to see that the outcomes of our work and efforts ultimately have less impact on us in the end than how we did our work, and whether we interacted with others and acted in and reacted to situations in a way that we can look back on and feel at peace with. It also allows us to grasp the unsustainability of chasing outcomes to the detriment of our own well-being and inner sustainability.
A meaningful life is lived with both attention and intention. If we don’t cultivate attention, good luck staying focused on our intention, remembering it, and calling it to mind, especially in the midst of a busy day or demanding challenges. Just as intention without action doesn’t get us far, having an intention, but not being able to attend to it, call it to mind, have the presence of mind to act on it also does not get us too far. That is why attention is the first of the four key areas of mindfulness, along with values, wisdom and an open heart. Mindfulness is much more than present moment awareness, as you may commonly hear as a description. It includes and enables the cultivation of concentration, wisdom and the ability to make healthy choices that nurture genuine happiness and a meaningful life.
Wanting to live more sustainably, and make the world a better place, we need to be our best selves and personally sustainable, with both mental and emotional balance, present in the moments of our lives and able to respond skillfully. Mindfulness is foundational to making the world a better place, by starting with yourself.
– Laura Bartels
We are very excited to launch our new Mindfulness in Recovery program!
This has been a vision of our co-founder, John Bruna, for many years and it has now come to fruition. Drawing upon his 31 years in recovery, experience as a substance abuse counselor, educator, Buddhist monastic, and mindfulness teacher, we have integrated the tools and resources of our mindfulness community with specific meditations and resources for people in recovery.
The mission of Mindfulness in Recovery is to provide our members with skills, activities, and support to cultivate mindfulness in their daily lives, empowering them to make healthy choices that are in alignment with their personal values and beliefs, so they can live meaningful lives in recovery.
Mindfulness in Recovery is an inclusive recovery support program, open to anyone with a sincere desire for recovery. Our goal is to provide daily mindfulness activities and support that enhance our members current 12 Step program and to provide mindfulness tools and resources for those not in 12 Step programs.
How it Works – The program is facilitated through the Mindful Life Community. Anyone can join. Just go to www.mindfulnessinrecovery.com to sign up. Like all of the members of the Mindful Life Community, members receive daily emails with lessons, inspiration and activities to help them engage in the day with attention and intention. Members also have an additional section with meditations and resources specific to supporting their life in recovery.
We welcome and support members of all faiths, spiritual traditions, and those of no spiritual tradition. We do not promote any particular faith or belief system. It is our firm conviction that everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, or orientation, deserves to live a meaningful and happy life in recovery. It is our belief that this can be accomplished when people have the resources and tools to live the life they find meaningful – with attention and intention. A life that is in alignment with their own values and allows them to flourish.
It is an honor for John to be now scheduled to speak about his upcoming book in a variety of venues. In May, John will be in Chicago for BookExpo America. After the book release this summer, the schedule includes a talk at Google and Facebook’s headquarters near San Francisco at the beginning of August. Public events in the Bay Area are also being scheduled. Later in August, he’ll attend the National Conference on Addiction Disorders in Denver with the publisher, Central Recovery Press. He’s also scheduled to speak at public libraries throughout Colorado in the fall with more locations coming. We’ll be sure to share dates as the details are finalized.
The book is described as a rich and multilayered guide that offers readers accessible wisdom and practical methods to cultivate deeper satisfaction in everyday experiences. In contrast to stimulus-driven pleasure, contentment comes from living a life of meaning that aligns with one’s values. The author identifies the common traps people fall into looking for happiness that actually create stress, worries, and fears, and offers authentic mindfulness-based solutions to counteract them.
If you missed the reviews we shared in in our last newsletter, here are a few.
“This text un-complicates and brings clarity to concepts that have been both overused and misused in popular literature. Simply written, and yet, profound. A practical and accessible guide to cultivating a healthy mind. John Bruna’s work is enduring and brilliant!” – Rebecca Willow, Ed.D., LPC, Associate Professor, Gannon University
“John Bruna’s kind, loving presence is infused in these pages where he shares many tools along with simply stated wisdom that guide us to a more meaningful life of contented happiness. From his years as a Buddhist Monk and in recovery John has gained the insight and clarity to offer deep wisdom in clear accessible language. He is a skilled communicator, committed in word and deed to helping others find the path to true freedom and transformational living. John is a natural storyteller and this book resonates with his big heart, authenticity, and humor.” – Peter Kuhn, Zen Buddhist Priest, Twelve-step Buddhist workshop, group, and retreat facilitator, writer and jazz musician
“What a welcome offering John Bruna provides us in his new book, The Wisdom of a Meaningful Life: The Essence of Mindfulness. Not only does Bruna recast traditional Buddhist teachings on mindfulness practice in a contemporary, and scientifically grounded new key, but he goes beyond the emphasis on meditation practice alone and adds his distinct and fresh perspective on the importance of ethical action. It is this skilled translation of mindfulness into right action that generates wellbeing, inner peace, and happiness. Most compellingly, Bruna illustrates his teaching with powerful examples from his own experience of transformation from addiction to freedom.” – Rev. David McCallum, S.J., Ed.D, Special Assistant to the President for Mission Integration, Le Moyne College