Most teenagers’ eyes glaze over when I start talking mindfulness. Adults are typically a bit more open minded. After all, mindfulness is popping up everywhere lately including magazine covers in the checkout line. When I’m trying to “sell” mindfulness to my therapy clients, I often catch myself citing the growing body of research on the benefits of mindfulness in treating all sorts mental and physical ailments. I am one to take replicated research seriously after all. Yet, the real reason I so often propose mindfulness to my clients is the undeniable benefit of training in the fine art of beginning again.
So many of us become frustrated when meditation does not come easily, feeling it has something to do our personal inability to focus when our mind wanders. And yet, noting the wandering (without judgment), coming back, and beginning again is the story of our life. In ways big and small, we are called to begin again. Marriage, for instance, is a constant effort at noticing when we are drifting apart or have hurt each other, turning back toward the other, and opening ourselves anew. Without this beginning again, we quickly drift too far apart. We see this pattern too with habits – we work hard to change something, then start to drift, then come back and commit anew to moving forward in a healthy direction.
Mental health takes beginning again to a whole new level. We often go into recovery of one sort or another with the hope that our issues will be resolved and we will feel carefree from that point forward. And yet, this is not how mental illness typically works. More often, we have to begin again several times over before we are truly symptom free, and even then we must remain aware of what is on the horizon so as to not be taken off course. It’s tempting to find that reality depressing in itself: why does it have to be so hard to feel better and stay better? It’s frustrating that simply staying healthy is so much work and we struggle to accept this. If we can let go of that struggle though, we are free to see that this also means it is never too late to begin again. Referencing meditation, Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg (2015) talks about the beauty of the moment where we recognize we have lost focus and again have the opportunity to come back to the breath and begin again. She references how powerfully that experience can be translated to the rest of life. In mindfulness, we have the gift of endless fresh starts. In pursuing the practice of putting our focus on something, noticing ourselves going astray, and gently bringing ourselves back, we are training our minds in the art of dedicated recovery. Lasting recovery, healthy relationships, good parenting, etc are achieved by consistent, repetitive, efforts at health, even when sometimes we don’t emotionally feel like making those efforts. Thank goodness meditation gives us an empowering way to prepare: take a breath, begin again.