You’ve heard of mindfulness, of course, an ease-ful (though not always easy) approach to life that encourages you to be present in the moment and in your body. When I took a mindfulness class at the University of Virginia, I learned the body scan technique, where you gently focus attention on different parts of your body, starting with your toes and moving up gradually to your head.
Although I have a famously distractible mind, and therefore often take twice as long to complete a body scan on my own (as opposed to doing it with a recorded meditation), I have learned not to condemn myself for those mind-wanderings. I simply bring my attention back to whatever part of my body it was on when my mind launched its silly meanderings, and proceed from there. Self-acceptance is a pillar of mindfulness.
It is not always easy. In fact it often feels like I am exercising an underused muscle. Still, it is a calming meditation; I always feel more clear and centered when I am done.
I did run into a snag, however. During the fourth or fifth class, our instructor—a physician who had been practicing mindfulness for many years—said if we had trouble when we got to the point of trying to be aware of our brains, that we shouldn't worry. He noted that it might feel a little odd to try to focus awareness on the brain with the brain—a strange kind of loop that might confuse or distract us.
I don't remember that he gave us any solution per se, except to remind us to allow and accept the oddness. I think he was just trying to let us know that if we had experienced that weirdness, we were not alone.
I had not struggled that particular issue. Until he mentioned it. Then, oh boy! My mind got caught in a high speed squirrel cage. "What? How can my brain be aware of my brain? With my mind? Thinking of my brain thinking of my mind? Is it my brain or my mind? Which am I thinking with? What is it I am supposed to be aware of? What? Aauugghh!” I really wished he hadn't said anything.
Except....one day some very wise part of me (or Somebody Else) nudged me. At that point in the meditation, you could offer to support your mind with your heart.
Hmmmm. My mind/brain had been doing a lot of work, carefully paying attention to every part of me—toes to hips to torso to stomach to heart to arms and shoulders, and on up to the head. But still, at the end of a session, perhaps it could rest in my heart.
The following words are a translation, so to speak, of the wordless message my heart then sent to my brain:
"You are not alone. You are amazing and wonderful, able to do so many remarkable things. You have handled awareness of the entire body, and you can be aware of yourself too, but you don't have to provide all your own support. I am here for you. You can rest. You could let me hold awareness of you. You are not alone."
And, voilà! My mind, rather surprised, believed my heart and gratefully received the support. "Ahhhhhhh." No other words, perhaps, but deep gratitude. Simply resting. Not alone.
This is what I call heartfulness. Tender—and happy—support for the mindful brain.
And with this experience, I began to understand that the heart has its own unique consciousness.
In Eat. Pray. Love. Liz Gilbert quoted a monk who said, "The resting place of the mind is the heart….The only place the mind will ever find peace is inside the silence of the heart."
Next time I'll write about "being with."