A good friend mentioned something to me the other day that resonated deeply. He read of a man who was unable to walk without shaking due to Parkinson’s until he visualized each step prior to making it, which allowed him to walk fluidly for longer periods of time.
I live with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and hearing about the man with Parkinson’s using visualization to walk reminded me of the power of mindfulness-based living. I was struggling mightily the day I spoke to my friend: my anxiety was out of control, I was in physical pain, and the overall feeling of dread and gloom was immense. Yet the power of this story struck through my confused state and I was able to sleep well, looking forward to the next day.
The following morning, this idea of mindful intention and/or visualization was echoed in my morning Shambhala Buddhist readings through the topic of Wind Horse: the self-exisiting energy of basic goodness cultivated through disciplined awareness. Essentially, through mindfulness, one can tap into an inate brilliant energy contain by all beings. Something clicked: I better understood this concept I had read and re-read but could never understand. I concluded that Wind Horse is eerily similar to how the man with Parkinson’s was able to walk fluidly by bringing visualization to his thoughts and movements. He slowed down his mind, focused on momentary details, and was able to achieve an extraordinary result.
In terms of applying Wind Horse to everyday life, it’s as if we’re sitting in the saddle of a wild horse and need to be fully aware of our speech, action and behavior in order to avoid being thrown off the animal. Here, riding a horse is a metaphor for navigating the hurried obstacle course of modern life, and the untamed horse is our mind. In order to be one with our aggressive mind, we must bring our attention to lightly rest on it, viewing our thoughts as thoughts instead of merely reacting to thoughts as if they were fact. By doing so we create less internal chaos and open newfound space from which to venture forward into our day less encumbered. It seems simple, right? I know I’ve scoffed at the idea of mindfulness many times since discovering it: “Who isn’t present and paying attention during their days?” I’d ask. “How could someone be so foolish? I’m a meditator, so of course I’m present and paying attention!”
Well, I’m here to tell you that I was not fully present during one-tenth of my day before my friend spoke to me. I’ve been meditating for close to seven years now, so I just assumed I had to be fully aware by now. The day of my struggles, I woke up and read Buddhist teachings and then sat for 20 minutes to meditate, but I also had my phone by my side the entire time and I checked my email before sitting. I was simply going through the motions of being present in the hopes that I could somehow fake it without putting in 100% of my intention. By 4 p.m. that day, I was spiraling: I was on my phone, texting three people, my email was open on the laptop, music blaring in the background, and I was late for an appointment. I was about as mindful as a housefly bouncing itself off a sunny windowpane trying to get outside.
What I’m coming to learn about mental wellness is the importance of everyday intention and seeing it through moment by moment. Folks like myself probably don’t have the most energy in the world, dealing with troubled minds and hurting bodies caused by past trauma. It’s exhausting, so the last thing we want to do is expend energy toward mindfulness. When it’s time to relax, we want to zone out, but if we’re not careful zoning out can last hours, days or weeks. So, to conserve energy, we must spend a little more in the beginning by setting our intentions, being mindful of our actions, and thinking through certain processes to ensure mind/body synchronicity.
The following day, I decided to avoid all electronics in an attempt to lessen stimulation and increase awareness. I woke up with my phone off — not on vibrate or mute but completely off — and left my laptop closed. It was a fantastic feeling. I read my book, enjoyed my coffee and then sat down to meditate, setting my intention for the entire day. Unlike the previous day, I was 100% focused on my actions. No phone, no Internet, no distraction, no excuses. I then performed small acts of dignity, like making my bed and doing the dishes, before sitting down to write music. By the time I looked up at a clock again, 3–4 hours had passed and I was nearing being late for work. Yet, I wasn’t zoned out, I was in the zone — fully present with my thoughts and actions. Let me tell you, after the previous day of suffering with anxiety, doubt and confusion, I’ll not make the same mistake again and assume I’m present just because I went through the motions of sitting practice.
Fully realized intentions to you all.
Originally published at medium.com