Last night of MBSR class: Always moving, never the same.
Friday night marked the end of our most recent 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) class, here in Monterey.
We arrive as strangers in this class, and over eight weeks of learning and practice, we discover (or re-discover) our shared lives, and we come to know parts of ourselves that may have gone unnoticed or unseen before. We come to learn how to live our lives differently and more fully, and to know more deeply what was there for us all along.
And we come together. On this recent night, along with practicing mindfulness in stillness and gentle movement, we celebrated our time together with a light meal, an exchange of favorite poetry -- some written by participants -- and an activity involving tossing a ball of twine across our human circle. We each caught it and threw it, until the twine created a pattern connecting each member of the circle. Bracelets were then cut from the twine, to be decorated with beads we each brought. The finished bracelets became souvenirs of our precious moments of shared time, and of what we had learned here.
Mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years, so what we teach in this class has its earliest seeds in nothing new! In the '70s, Jon Kabat-Zinn created the MBSR program to carry these age-old practices through the doors of modern science, down the corridors of medicine, technology, and neuroscience research, to a secular audience of westerners seeking relief and/or solace. Students of the MBSR program he created now have access to powerful teachings that offer ways to manage many of life's "heart-breaks," ranging from anxiety and fear to chronic pain -- to life's "full catastrophe." **
A not-coincidental side effect of the program is the sense of camaraderie and connection we experience after 8 weeks of in-class and at-home practice. We discover ways to open our hearts and minds non-judgmentally and compassionately, through guided practices that originated thousands of years ago.
In the re-discovery of stillness, breath, and body wisdom, 'individuals' in our classes find their connection to one another -- as well as themselves. Through a structured series of practices, readings, and discussion, MBSR participants begin the simple and most challenging skill of simply Being, with moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness of their own unfolding lives.
* The quote up top comes from an old Hasidic tale. As retold by Gina Sharpe in On the Cushion, when a student asked a rabbi why teachings should be held on the heart instead of in the heart, the rabbi said it's so that "when the heart breaks, the teachings fall in."
* * Kabat-Zinn named his book,"The Full Catastrophe," after this phrase quoted by Zorba in book-became-movie, "Zorba The Greek."
That's what two of his longtime friends and allies tweeted.
The loss of Robin Williams feels collective and deeply personal. In his life and with his death, the thread that weaves us together as humans is felt more deeply today than most days.
Much can be said about depression. We study it, we work with it, and today, with the help of technology, we can even see its imprint on images of our brains. Often, we can loosen its grip on our hearts, freeing those of us dealing with it to live our precious lives again.
We are in life together. Those of us alive today have been fortunate to share some of our time here with Mr. Williams.
He helped us feel the ripples of our human connection. We never met him, but we all knew him as though he were a friend. We feel lucky to have palled around for a while with a man so hilarious, talented, and humane.
Mr. Williams' acts of kindness, compassion and humanity, expressed both privately and publicly, say a lot to me about what kind of man he was between performances. People who knew him as a neighbor and father called him a "mensch," meaning "person of integrity." He both loved and did for others. Among the stories told about him this week, please listen for these.
We should never underestimate the power of simple acts of kindness that cultivate our connection to one another.
We live in a demanding and driven world. It can be hard to stay clear about what actually matters, for each of us. Who or what do we care about? What can we do about it? It's easy to get fooled into believing that no matter what we're doing, it's not enough, or it's not good enough.
But what if each effort we make, in the simple direction of what we care about, actually counts?
What if it really, truly is Enough?
Today, in Robin Williams' memory, I offer this poem:
"Forget About Enlightenment," by John Welwood
Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.