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A Quick Intro to Mindfulness Meditation OR Why Breaking my Ankle was a Good Thing in the End

May 3, 2013

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When I ask my students in drama to meditate at the start of each class (just 5 minutes), they look at me like I’m nuts.

I would have looked at me like I was nuts, too. Until I broke my ankle camping.

I wish I could say that I was surfing in the South Pacific, or zip lining through a Costa Rican rainforest but, well, no.

Two years ago, I went camping with the new batch of students who had come to the school for Grade 7.

Due to stomachaches and general malaise, the girls had kept all of the female teachers up the night before with unnecessary screaming, and all other usual shenanigans girls who don’t like camping engage in (me being one of them – they didn’t know this, of course).

The next night, a bunch of grumpy, sleep-deprived teachers warned the girls not to leave their bunks under ANY circumstance.

During a lovely dinner for the teachers (cooked by some generous parents), I went to go check to make sure that the girls were asleep.

Walking through the forest, at night, in the rain, a branch caught my sweatpants: I went down in what seemed like slow motion and lay with my pink rain boots sticking up in the air.

I yelled for help, but the girls would later tell me that they thought this was a dirty, dirty trick to lure them out of their bunks and test their understanding of the warning to stay inside their tents (I’ve since explained that in the future, should they hear someone yelling ‘help,’ chances are they should check. We still laugh about it).

My hilarious colleagues finally heard me yelling, and came running, seemingly from all directions, to my rescue. They hoisted me up and consulted with the doctor who had accompanied us – they all believed my ankle was sprained. I concurred.

At 3 AM, however, I woke up, half delirious to an unbearable pain.

The next morning, I was driven to the hospital to find out that not only had my ankle broken in three places, but that all of the ligaments were torn and that I would need surgery to insert multiple pins.

I thought the doctors were kidding: they weren’t.

That long-winded opening leads to the purpose of this story: I went in for surgery and spent a long time recuperating. I was frustrated that the couch was now my home.

As someone who likes to run around, I needed to find a way to cope: nothing was going to change the fact that my ankle was broken – and it could have been a lot worse. Of course, time and distance lend me that perspective today.

By chance, I glanced a still-wrapped, two-year-old audiobook of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Introduction to Mindfulness that my dear friend, Steph, had suggested I listen to.

When she had first mentioned it, I had been intrigued but skeptical. Meditation conjured images of New Age, chanting gurus.

The moment I hit play on Kabat-Zinn was pivotal: and now people just think I’m some crazy New Age, chanting guru.

The basic tenets of mindfulness meditation include:

• Cultivating non-judgmental, non-reactive awareness to the present moment.
• Using different anchors (the breath, sound, the body) to focus the mind.
• To just be in stillness, rather than rushing around worrying about the future or lamenting the past.
• Understanding how often we live with dis-ease.
• Learning how to take our thoughts less seriously.

It’s simple but difficult to practice as we’re all wired for constant stimulation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn was one of the pioneers involved with bringing mindfulness into medicine through his stress-reduction clinic in Boston. He has a no-nonsense, accessible approach that doesn’t preach religion but leaves room for spirituality.

I understand people who are doubtful of sitting with themselves for five minutes each day, let alone twenty or forty five: it sounds really boring and, sometimes, it is.

However; meditation teaches you to recognize that we are in a constant state of flux and change and we need to deal with this rather than always distracting ourselves.

Once you practice bringing your attention back to your breath through steady focus, this awareness tends to leak into your day and changes how you experience situations of stress, joy, you name it.

There’s really no harm in trying it: I enjoy Kabat-Zinn’s voice in tandem with reading his writing, but pick whichever one works for you, should you be interested.

Some books of his that I would recommend include: Wherever you Go, There You Are; Full-Catastrophe Living; Coming to Our Senses, and Adventures in Mindfulness (audiobook only).

Another great book is Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

The ‘answer’ that we’re always looking for, really doesn’t come from outside: no matter how hard we try to attain ‘it’ through work, relationships, exercise, etc. It comes from the understanding that the only thing you really need is to ‘experience the present moment in its entirety’ (Kabat-Zinn).

There’s no guarantee that mindfulness will speak to you, but there’s no harm in trying.

If you’re interested, try sitting and focusing on your breath for just a few minutes each day: when your mind starts to wander, bring your attention back to your breath. It won’t take long to realize how ‘out’ of the moment we all are.

Sometimes, I feel grateful that I broke my ankle, because it brought mindfulness meditation into my life at a time when I was too bored to read – and that’s saying something.

But the kids in drama still look at me like I’m nuts.

Comments

  1. I loved this blog entry, reminded me that I should try and take a few minutes every day to unwind and breathe! Keep these posts coming, I really enjoy reading them. I think I will pick up Real Happiness. I have heard great things about it!

  2. I would concur…..I had a similar experience, mine was kidney cancer however, mindfulness and meditation were my saviours! I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through the chaos and craziness of those days leading up to and following surger without this meditation. It became something for ‘me’ something that at times I would spend a ‘quick’ 60 minutes doing…. as soon as I was back in a room after surgery, on went my ipad and I called up John Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness meditation and off I went into my own world again…..truly life altering, if you can manage to get there. Try it you won’t be disappointed…..ever

    ps…..nice post, I enjoyed reading and like the way you write

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