At the time, my life was a train wreck. I was in the throes of wrestling with the grief of my son’s suicide, questioning my purpose, wondering if it made any sense to continue living, having to reinvent my life and my self, trying desperately to arrive at a new normal. A peaceful station, where I could rest quietly and just breathe.
I was exploring many routes for healing, when someone suggested mindful meditation. I considered myself incapable of meditation though, somehow not wired for it. Decades earlier I had tried it, and I could not sit for 5 minutes without my mind and body becoming extremely fidgety. I had concluded I wasn’t built for it, the same way I wasn’t built to be an astronaut or an Olympian-caliber gymnast.
Fast forward to my son’s death. Even though we were still grieving, his father and I knew we wanted to make meaning of our cruel loss. It was important to pass something on to future generations that might ease some of the turmoil our son had experienced during his troubled transition from child to adolescent to young adult (he was 20 when he died).
We teamed up with Julian’s middle school (Seven Hills School in Walnut Creek CA) and established a memorial fund devoted to the social and emotional well being of the students. To that end, the school hired Joree Rosenblatt, a psychotherpist-in-training (years later, she is now licensed), to be on campus 1-2 days a week to work one-on-one and in small groups with the students on a wide range of issues related to their mental and emotional health.
I didn’t know at the outset that mindfulness was Joree’s passion, and would be her focus, but what resulted was beautiful to witness. An entire curriculum on mindfulness emerged for the students, for the staff, for parents, for the surrounding community. This was (and continues to be) Joree’s passion, and now Julian’s legacy.
I attended Joree’s workshop series on “Mindful Parenting.” Given the premature death of my only child, you might be asking what more I needed to know about parenting? But something told me to check it out anyway. You could say this is how I mindlessly stumbled upon mindfulness.
Joree was the first person to explain mindfulness meditation to me in a way that helped me believe I could do it. I told her I couldn’t stop thinking, and that in trying so hard to quiet my mind, I’d make it even noisier. All my “shushing” only added to the cacophony. “It’s not about turning your mind ‘off’, Celenia,” Joree explained patiently. “The objective is not to not have thoughts; the objective is actually to notice that you’re having them.”
OK then! That I could do! She described my thoughts like cars of a train – my “train of thoughts” (pun intended). How it was more a matter of noticing the train and sending it merrily on its way, than being swept up onto it for the ride. Becoming an observer of the train rather than a passenger. I loved this metaphor.
“Mindfulness” is a bit of a buzz word these days. Everyone’s doing it. It’s the new panacea for social, emotional, relational, political, professional, physical…HUMAN…ills. But what IS it exactly? Here’s a definition that really works for me, from the book, “The Mindful Way Through Depression” (p. 47):
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges
through paying attention on purpose,
in the present moment,
to things as they are.
Wow. If you examine each line and every word, it’s quite profound! Sitting in mindful silence was, and still is, an enormous component of my healing. It was an acquired taste though. Even with the permission to have thoughts during my meditation, I do still judge myself at times; I’m not always immediately successful at not boarding that train and getting carried away with it.
The real trick though, is putting these mindfulness skills into practice in the real world. It’s one thing to be mindful when sitting quietly in a chair or on a cushion, not interacting with anything but one’s own psyche. It’s another thing to take one’s mindfulness skills onto the real railroad tracks of life: engaging with the world, with its people, with its pettiness and cruelty and suffering, and doing so in a mindful manner. Waiting for the train, dealing with the delays, the missed stops, the lost baggage, the power outages, even the horrible wrecks and still remaining mindful? That’s the train I want to be on. To that train, I mindfully say, “All aboard!”
[TITLE PHOTO: ‘THE BUDDHA IN REPOSE’]