When working with coaching client to build her own mindfulness practice, she asked me if I, myself, meditated. I hung my head as I had to say, “no.” I had experimented with it on and off, managed a daily practice for a month or two, but never developed the long-term habit. I was struck by the contradiction between my belief in it’s power and effectiveness and my choice not to make mindfulness or meditation important in my life.
Several weeks after that coaching call, I told her that her own will and motivation to start meditating had inspired me to restart my own practice, and stick with it. Since then I have been practicing meditation with a 30-minute guided meditation 5-6 days a week.
I am reminded of this now as my flight is taking off and the houses and cars below are getting smaller. My awareness of the daily human world below has shifted to a place of removed observation, something that I practice in meditation. From up here, I can no longer participate in the struggles, back and forth, politics, daily frustrations and emotionality of what goes on on the streets below me. Here, I am experiencing a concept of what mindfulness really is.
Being mindful is taking broader and more removed perspective, this approach helps us to believe that “this too shall pass.” This anger or sadness shall also pass, this thought or worry is only a phase and is just paying a visit. We are not defined by that feeling, thought, or event. We fly right over each and every human experience that’s happening in the ground beneath us.
I wonder if expats gain a broader perspective of the world in a way that helps us cope with some things better. Take American politics for example. Of course I’m embarrassed to be associated with the USA as I’m living abroad, but I see there are other countries with other problems out there, in Germany we have different realities and I can see what is happening in the USA from a broader perspective, that it too is a phase, and being outside of the USA it is easier to distance myself from it all. As a kid I remember experiencing our political situations with much more fear. I couldn’t understand how we could survive four whole years with a president I thought would destroy us. With age we also gain the capacity to see beyond the phase we are in, to see that even if we are suffering now, the world is in constant change, and there is another future out there for us.
I experienced the positive effects of perspective as a social worker working with patients in Seasons Hospice Care. The title says it all. We all have seasons. As I did life review and grief work with patients and families I was so grateful for the perspective it gave me; any personal problem I had that day was immediately washed away after visits with my patients. I still had a whole life in front of me. I received the gift of hearing what was important after 80+ years of living: their families, memories of their 100th birthday party. They didn’t remember when they failed an exam, or didn’t get the promotion. During that job, when I met people and made small talk, hearts sank when people learned where I worked. They often responded, “wow, that is tough! I could never do that,” but I never felt that way. Lack of perspective is why we lose more adolescents than adults to suicide; adolescents cannot see past the phase they are in, into a life in the future worth living.
So take a moment to step outside of yourself, get up above the clouds until you and your worries and thoughts look smaller and like just visitors bringing temporary inconveniences. Breathing is often the focus of meditation at the beginning because it teaches us how things come and go, without any effort from ourselves. Our bodies know how much air we need in each moment and the next breath always comes.
Try it out for yourself!