When we practice mindfulness, we are sharpening several necessary and frequently underdeveloped skills – flexible attention, knowing what we’re feeling, and observing our own thoughts – to name just a few. This month on the blog, we’d like to discuss the critical skill of beginning again.
Whether we’re sitting in meditation, or practicing informally, it is inevitable that we will become lost in thought – many, many times. This isn’t anyone’s fault, but we do need a strategy to work with it. The instruction is rather simple for working with the moment when we realize we’ve become lost in thought. The instruction is: begin again. This simple instruction has real transformative power. To truly begin again, means to abandon the analysis of where our mind went, why it went there, or what it means about us that the mind continues to just think so much.
When we practice beginning again, we learn what it truly means to return to the object of mindful awareness without any drama. In doing so, we learn to quickly drop the stories about ourselves and other people, and experience the moment with fresh eyes and an open heart. As a result, we create opportunities for connection, joy, forgiveness, and compassion that would otherwise be lost. How many times does the present moment become so contaminated by regrets, fears or resentments that we are no longer truly here? And how do we tend to react in those times?
Beginning again allows us to step out of the scripts that can easily dictate our behaviors, and engage with what’s actually happening. Just this evening I (Erin) announced to my kids that it was time to get ready for bed. Immediately there was the standard pushback, and instananeously I felt that familiar tension in reaction. “Here we go again”. Of course I raised my voice, and began playing out the script “if you’re not in bed in five minutes there’s no story”, to which I received the standard and predictable “you can’t tell us what to do all the time!”
Thankfully, through my mindfulness practice, I now have the option to step out of the old script and begin again. As a result of practicing in meditation, I am familiar with what the pivot towards starting over actually feels like (of course remembering to use the skill is always the hard part). My body and my mind soften, and I connect with a faint whisper of a reminder to ‘begin again’. Without judgement, self-criticism, or needing anything to be any different than how it is, I completely let myself off the hook. No longer did I need to be the mom that was “in control”. I could just be there, without needing anything to be different at all.
Of course this is a small example, but the skill of beginning again can lead to profound shifts. And learning to begin again is a skill that is cultivated and practiced whenever we meditate. By beginning again, we can give ourselves permission to gain freedom from self-defeating habits and patterns, and learn to experience ourselves, our lives, and the people around us exactly as they are.