I just don’t see myself sitting on a cushion, in a candle lit room, with wafts of incenses permeating the air — collectively oooommmmming with a group of people I don’t know. The whole thing just makes me feel uncomfortable. I am a man’s man, I like to chop wood, grow a beard, and wrestle with my teenage son (although my beard sucks compared to Ryan Michler’s).
With that said, the benefits of meditation, and especially what it’s said to cultivate: mindfulness, is hard to ignore. As a man I know that one of my struggles is gaining a handle on my inner warrior energy. I know my wife didn’t believe it existed until we had two boys. She is a believer now.
Playing Rough Doesn’t Last
I think like most men, I am not the best at communicating. When things bother me, especially when it’s unhelpful emotions, I don’t show it, and I don’t talk about it-or when it does come out, it is typically in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Like all men, I don’t complain (at least not out loud) and I just find a way to deal with it — often through looking for an avenue where I can express it. I guess in this sense I am lucky, I teach other men how to kick ass. For my buddies who don’t have this luxury, they try to come to terms with the unhelpful stuff inside them, by hitting the gym, playing a game of touch rugby ( or sadly for some, hitting the bottle). My realisation has been this, that while physically expressing oneself in some way immediately releases that toxic sludge inside, it doesn’t last long.
As any man, I want to feel a sense of order, and control in my personal life. While it is great to get physical and purge the stressors of my life out in the ring, the reality is, it will be back tomorrow. So several years ago, I started seriously looking into this whole mindfulness thing. As a long time martial artist (or what I prefer to call myself as a Primal Artist) I was already well aware of the benefits of being present in a fight. But for some reason, that lesson seemed to have escaped me in everyday life. I began to do a lot of research, and got familiar with the idea of mindfulness (hell, I even went one step further and decided to do a PhD in it).
Mindfulness Lasts – No Cushion Required
Here’s what I have learned. Unlike physically purging your stress that I mentioned earlier, applying mindfulness to your life, lasts. Secondly, and crucially, you don’t have to sit on a meditation cushion either to learn, or apply mindfulness in your life. Ellen Langer a top researcher in the field of mindfulness agrees, as she has noted you don’t need to meditate to achieve mindfulness.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply about paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and crucially non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience you find yourself in. In other words it is allowing yourself to feel and think as you normally would, but this time, not only are you fully aware of those thoughts and feelings, you are not judging them.
Think of it this way, right now if you took a moment and closed your eyes, you are aware of how you feel — you can see in your minds eye images, and thoughts that appear, you can hear your own inner narrative. Think of your ability to achieve this as your inner observer.
Now in mindfulness, you want to purposely use that inner observer, in bringing it to the present moment and be aware of your feelings, thinking, and sensations — but this time, and crucially you simply observe what is going on inside (and outside). If you do this without adding a second layer to that observation, for instance a story, then you are essentially being mindful.
It’s Our Story Not Life That Derails Us
Here’s the truth, much of the rollercoaster ride we call life shows up as a story in our lives (mostly tethered to the past or the future). From this perspective it is not so much what is happening on the outside that causes our distress, but rather how we interpret what is happening on the inside that does. Imagine if you can feel your emotions, or notice your thoughts in a specific situation, but this time, instead of trying to change those thoughts or emotions, or trying to reason with them, by either justify that you are right, and the other person who caused your stress is wrong — you simply watch those thoughts and emotions without entering into a discussion with them. That very act, of observing your inner movement (thinking, feelings, sensations) without trying to change it, without creating a story around it, just watching it with curiosity, is what it means to be mindful.
Practice Breathing In The Mundane
I know what you are thinking, “That’s all and well Rodney, but where can a person start to practice this?” My answer, “Everywhere” — be mindful-in-action. In fact the best place to start is in the mundane. In the things you take for granted, from the drive to work, to washing the dishes, to chopping wood. Here is a hard earned lesson from my own life, if I can’t be mindful in the things I take for granted everyday, like the drive to work — and instead I find myself constantly flying off the handle every time someone cuts me off in traffic — then how am I going to handle the big stressors in life?
How I did I get started on my mindfulness-in-action journey? I took time to learn to breathe again. Focusing on your breath is one of the easiest ways to practice mindfulness and the cool thing about it, considering you breathe all the time, you can do it anywhere. The next time you washing the dishes, or chopping wood — take the time to just focus on your breath. As thoughts, feelings and sensations arise, don’t fight them, simply just return to your breath. If suddenly you find yourself lost in a train of thoughts, and you have forgotten to focus on your breath, just gently bring yourself back to it. If you are in the car, and someone cuts you off, and you feel the surge of anger begin to rise, remind yourself to focus on your breath. What you soon start to realise, as I have, is that regardless of how you feel or think, if you don’t attach to it, if you don’t become mindless and lost in a story about it, you can pretty much still achieve anything you set out too. Cool things about this, mindfulness-in-action training doesn’t require you to meditate, but you still get all the benefits.
My Four Step Breathing Process, To Be More Mindful In Action:
- Draw your attention to your heart: Imagine you are breathing in and out through the heart.
- Relaxed in-breath: Keep your throat open. Breath falls into your belly. Ribs move with each breath. Not too deep and not too shallow.
- Exhale: Focus on the exhale as this engages the opposite calming side of your flight/fight/freeze system.
- Smooth Change: The change between breaths is gentle and slow, like an ocean wave rolling onto the shore, lingering, and ten flowing back out to sea.
A Maverick entrepreneur, Rodney King created a modern martial arts lifestyle brand, that now has branches in over 15 countries around the world — all from starting with only $20 in his pocket. He coaches entrepreneurs and success minded people all over the world how to master their inner game for business and life success. You can take Rodney’s complimentary online video course at www.fullcontactliving.org, or to find out more about him personally go to www.coachrodneyking.com.