After five days of om'ing, intense breathing exercises, and stripping the mind of the ego (while forgetting we were still smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan) I came away from The Art of Living's mindfulness course feeling refreshed and energized.
I came to it open, but not without a dose of cynicism. I love doing yoga, working on being present, and even meditating. But sometimes this type of thing is a little too #namaste for me: Do yoga twists really "cleanse" the body? Does sitting in a dark room hyperventilating (aka doing sudarshan kriya) for 45 minutes while listening to a chant recording really harmonize the mind and body, leading you more swiftly on the path to enlightenment?
Perhaps that's up to your own mind...
That said, I did come away with some important learnings from the course. While meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga was a large part of it, there was also a good amount of lecture and discussions. Here's what I wrote down throughout the five days, hoping it would stick with me.
1. Be 100%.
Like I wrote in this post about eating a grape, it's really quite nuts how we never can focus our mind fully one one task. We're eating lunch at our desk, talking to a friend and texting another friend, in a yoga class dreaming about tacos, etc. I remember I used to eat breakfast in the SHOWER. We owe it to ourselves, and those we care about, to give our full attention to the thing we're actually doing.
2. Accept people and situations as they are.
If there's one thing I learned in my nearly 28 years of existence, it's that you can't change people. And ... (surprise!) you also can't change things that have happened in the past. So, the most healthy thing we can do is to accept. This doesn't mean people should accept injustices around the world (or, say, Donald Trump being a total fuck-bag), but for the small stuff (my friend is always late, I wish I never quit my job, ahhhh I have a flat tire) shift your thinking to, "this happened, I can't change it, so what steps should I take to be okay with it?"
3. The ego sucks.
Normally we thinking of the ego as this pompous voice that is associated with pride, but it's actually the total constructed identity of ourselves, from the "I'm so amazing!" to the "I am not good enough." It's sort of hard to explain ego, and I haven't even fully grasped it myself, but we basically learned that our reactions to things, and the way we view ourselves, is all wrapped up in the thing. During the course, we were asked to meditate, do yoga, and do kriya, without judgements—without adding any expectation, or ego, to it.
4. "It's a good idea to implement a good idea."
One of my favorite quotes from our teacher was this one. It sort of speaks for itself. Good ideas are useless without doing anything with them.
5. Responsibilities vs. needs.
Ah! One of our homework assignments was to write down all of our needs, and all of our responsibilities. Some of my needs were food, water, health insurance, income, and nature, and some of my responsibilities were pay rent, do taxes, be a good friend, etc etc. When we shared them all, we found that everyone had listed more needs than responsibilities. What we learned was that people generally tend to be more fulfilled with having less needs and more responsibilities. Makes...sense, just as long as the number of responsibilities doesn't get out of hand. Here's my new (work-in-progress) list:
Needs: Water, Food, Air, Mountains, Sneakers, Tacos, Love.
Responsibilities: Be a good family member and friend. Be a good employee and manager. Do taxes, pay rent and bills, write letters, vote, be educated, eat tacos...
6. Presence is eternal and inevitable.
Alas, the biggest takeaway during all of this is what we spend so much time trying to change the present. The reality is the present is always here, always changing, and always here. We might as well embrace it, be in it, and try to stop the wandering mind from going to places it doesn't need to be.
And that's it! I highly recommend the class. If anyone has any questions about it, just send me an email- email@example.com :)