It was my brother-in-law Bill's turn to answer a compelling question, one that I hoped would trigger an insightful conversation: "Given your many interests and your difficult job as a clinical social worker, how do you stay aware and in the moment?" Bill chuckled, as he had asked me the same question a month or so before. He reminded me that he has been exploring mindfulness and meditation for 35 years, including going to a downtown Minneapolis meditation center for the past seven years. "Meditation has given me a way to find peace. Regardless of my emotional state, I can be at peace."
"But what if you are in pain," I asked, "or really unhappy? Or have to deal with a really difficult client? Does what you learn in meditation help?"
"Yes. " Bill replied. "There is power in awareness. It leads to a sense of confidence in knowing what to do or not to do, how to act or not act—acting with intention instead of reacting emotionally." I nod and think back to how he has changed over years. As a social worker, he always wore his big heart on his sleeve. But I've noticed changes in him. He gets much less agitated when things go wrong or when he has to deal with something unpleasant. At times in the past he had trouble letting such things go; he could brood about them for hours.
As Bill explains: "Meditating—focusing on a single sense, feeling, or thought and returning to that over and over again without judgment—has helped me find ease even in discomfort. Regular practice is designed to help return you to that state of ease as much as possible." I suspect I looked impressed by the profound words coming from my in-law. "Meditation is similar to physical exercise," Bill continued. "You don't lift weights and do stretches just so you can go back to the gym the next day and do it again. The purpose of exercising is to increase your strength and flexibility for your everyday life, so you don't hurt yourself reaching for the bag of rice on the top shelf or helping the neighbors move furniture."
Same goes with meditation, he says. "Practicing regularly helps me return to my main intention—to develop 'Awareness in Life.'"
"What do you mean develop Awareness in Life?" I asked. "It sounds mystical." Was my sister-in-law aware of how spiritual her husband had become?
"Awareness in Life is being aware in as many moments, as much as possible, in day-to-day life," he replied. "When I can be truly present and simply aware of what is going on in the moment, right now, I can resist the urge to act without thinking. It comes down to this: Noticing when I go somewhere else, and coming back to the present," he said.
"Give me an example?" I asked.
"Well, last week, I had the urge to jump all over my kid." Home for a holiday, his college-aged son had left a mess after preparing food in the kitchen. "But my practice of meditation helps me notice such impulses, and that allows me to make a different choice. I don't have to yell at my kids or be mean. I can simply talk like a fully functioning dad and remind them of their commitment to help around the house." Bill smiled, as did I. I can just see my two nephews doing a double take at their dad keeping his cool. "The practice of meditation is deeply rooted in values," Bill explained. "It has helped me commit to my core values, one of which is kindness."
TODAY'S CONVERSATION PROMPTS
Ask someone you care about:
- What helps you resist the urge to act without thinking?
- Give an example of a time you tried that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tom Glaser is the author of Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. A practicing psychologist and life coach, he lives in Minneapolis with his husband and son. When he isn't hanging out with his brother-in-law or out walking the dog, you'll find him hard at work on his second book, on restoring resilience after trauma.