Mindfulness after Sixty: 21 Practices
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”
–Jon Kabat -Zinn
I’ve been on this mindfulness journey for several years now and I decided to use this blog post to reflect on what I’ve learned from my experiences so far. Some of these practices have worked well for me while others not so much. I’ve found that some have special significance and adaptations for those of us grappling with the aging process while others can be integrated into our lives no matter what our age. With the exception of #1, these mindfulness practices are not listed in any particular order.
- Practice meditation regularly. Regular meditation is at the heart of a mindful life. I admit that I have had lapses in my practice. When I do meditate regularly, I am better able to handle my emotions and I am more patient with others. I purchased a subscription to Headspace but I have found that Tara Brach’s free meditations (tarabrach.com) are just as helpful. I sit in a comfortable chair when I meditate because sitting cross-legged on a cushion hurts my arthritic knees. Good posture and circulation are important.
- Eat mindfully. If your working life was like mine, we cooked and ate as quickly as possible because we were so busy with work and family. Now that we are retired, we can practice mindful eating more easily. It’s not only a practice that is more accessible, it’s a wonderful way to calm our minds, stay present, and appreciate our connectedness with the foods we eat.
- Give to your community. I volunteer for several organizations and I find “giving back” is meaningful and fulfilling. It’s a great way to maintain the cognitive and social skills that I used during my work life and gives me opportunities to practice compassion with others.
- Mindful walking. Like mindful eating, mindful walking lets me be present by focusing on the senses. I listen to the birds and rustling leaves; I feel the touch of my feet on the ground; I watch the passing clouds and shadows on the street, and I taste the clean air as I focus on my breath. It’s a mindfulness practice I eagerly look forward to now and I have the time to do it.
- Loving Kindness Meditation. This is often called “Metta” meditation and allows us to bring compassion for ourselves and others to our meditation practice. I recently started a group meditation practice and I look forward to being part of this meditative energy as it is released from the group out into the world.
- Practice self-compassion. I spent forty years trying to hide my self-dislike from my bosses, clients, and colleagues. Retirement is the time to practice self-compassion. Ask yourself, “What is the impact of all that loathing, sense of lack, and self-criticism?” We can turn suffering into joy when we focus on awareness and intention. It’s time to appreciate ourselves.
- Reflect on what you are grateful for every day. While I haven’t yet started a “gratitude journal,” I plan to because I have so much to be grateful for. By focusing on these positives, we become more optimistic, more spiritual, and less materialistic.
- Practice yoga or something similar to integrate body, mind, and spirit. Yoga and meditation are seen as “partner practices.” However, yoga can be tough on aging bodies. I have arthritic knees and hands so many of the poses are impossible for me. I recently met a yoga teacher in my community so I’m going to try again.
- Focus on your breath. Mindful breathing is the most basic meditation. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Mindful breathing is a powerful practice. As we breathe in and out during meditation, thoughts also come in and out. Even the most seasoned meditators can be bombarded by countless thoughts as they sit. The skill of our practice is letting go of intrusive thoughts without forcing them away or judging them.
- Read books on mindfulness. I read constantly and my favorite mindfulness books change with how well my mindfulness journey is going. Currently, I’m really enjoying articles in Mindful.org and the blog, LeftBrainBuddha.com.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Even more than the noise from a retired husband and 2 dogs in a smaller house, the chatter in my mind affects my mindfulness. Focusing on the breath helps the chatter to dissipate and my mind to rest. I find I am better able to handle stress and stay in the present moment.
- Give up wanting and clinging. Retirement brings about a reconsideration of what we value. A huge part of my mindful journey since retirement is recognizing the futility of clinging to wants and desires. Years ago, I wanted a big house more than anything. Why? I thought it would make me happy. What the large house brought instead was the need for more money to maintain it and more effort to clean it. Now, I find joy in observing nature and my surroundings, not in the amount or materialistic value of my belongings.
- Accept sorrow. Sorrow is the flip side of joy. What I’m learning is that both joy and sorrow are concepts created in the mind. They’re not reality. Without our suffering from the difficulties and challenges we’re confronted with in life, we wouldn’t have the capability to experience peace and joy.
- Build a support system in mindfulness. I’m excited about my brand new meditation practice group. With Susan’s warm greeting and Dell’s generous hug, I knew this group is destined to be a big part of my mindful journey.
- Show love and compassion to the Earth. Thich Nhat Hanh said “Walk as if your feet are kissing the Earth” I believe we are all connected and must honor all living things by taking care of this planet. In retirement, I’m having the opportunity to strengthen my connection to the earth by gardening and being present with nature.
- Connect with nature. Christians believe that man has dominion over nature. My Buddhist belief is that we must abstain from any injury to life. Buddhism also prescribes the practice of Metta, “loving-kindness” towards all creatures without restriction and gentle non-violence to all of nature. I’m currently sustaining a charity commitment to several different animal conservation groups as part of my mindfulness journey.
- Let go of the need to control. We try to control things because we fear what will happen if we don’t. We become attached to a specific desire or goal for the future – an outcome we think is best for us. In contrast, mindfulness is all about being “present.” As we breathe in and out, our mind becomes calm and we’re able to see the big picture. Ironically, I’m finding that the calmer I feel, the more confident I am that the future will be exactly what I’m hoping for. It’s karma.
- Accept joy. The Book of Joy is a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu about finding joy and happiness in the face of suffering and grief. Their secret? Not thinking so much about ourselves. Eternity in six words. Joy is that innermost feeling that can result in playfulness, wit, and humor. I’m working on it!
- Learn something new. We expect young people to learn productively. We expect elders to rock on the porch. My life in the last couple of years has included so much new learning that I can’t begin to list the topics. Mindfulness is at the top of the list – followed by learning to use a couple of software programs, and learning how to produce a newsletter. Mindfulness isn’t compatible with boredom!
- Observe your thoughts and emotions. The RAIN Formula is a process we can use during meditation. The steps are 1) Recognize the thoughts or emotion that appear in our mind. 2) Accept them without judgment. 3) Investigate them to better understand them. 4) Non-Identify – let the thoughts and feelings go and return to the breath. I’m finding this formula useful outside of my meditation practice also.
- Listen actively to others. I’ve found that many of us over 60 have difficulty communicating with our adult children. Active listening is a useful skill throughout our lives but relationships between Baby Boomers and Millennials involve different perceptions and needs. Empathizing and hearing our adult children speak from their best, authentic, true self – looking past their flaws, can both facilitate and be facilitated by our use of mindfulness.
No room for a poem this week! I hope to hear from you about how mindfulness practices have changed your life.