one woman's quest to live the life she's imagined all while daring you to do the same

The Martial Art of Mindfulness

A beautiful friend and client of mine used this metaphor yesterday. She was referring to her daily practice of mindfulness that she has come to see as a disciplined dance like martial arts.

I thought that was perfect. I pictured tai chi–a practice much harder than it looks.

For some, meditation and mindfulness seem effortless. It’s like yoga to the uber-flexible. Yet for those of us who have spent the majority of our lives stiff and guarded, the fluidity that one might imagine would arise from yoga/mindfulness feels more like a battle field.

I fought and fought through my first few months of meditation. Daily mindfulness came easier to me than the sitting part. [My definition of mindfulness is present awareness, just to clarify.] I was better able to watch my thoughts and reactions throughout the day than I was in meditation. Because for me, meditation was surprisingly painful. Physically painful.

I was very disciplined in my posture, no movement; I had been a personal trainer for years so it was perfect form or nothing, as I saw it. I was an athlete; I’d been training my whole life for something, I could sit still for 20 min., damnit!

Focusing on the physical pain in my body brought my attention to spots of tension, tightness, blockages, masses that felt like tumors. When I went to the pain, it subsided. When I breathed through the knots, they untangled. When I let go of the hold on the “hurt,” it had less power.

Nobody had ever given me a handbook. Nothing I read on meditation had warned me for this. It wasn’t until I got five days into a silent meditation retreat did I hear the words, “It’s like a surgery with no anesthesia,” and it all made sense.

Of course, karmically speaking, not everybody has this experience. I suppose my first 29 years weren’t the most well sowed foundation for a mindfulness practice. If my past lives are any indication of how I began this one, it’s no wonder I was sweating my way through all this.

Once I got through the physical pain, then there was the surprise in the clarity, or the lack their of rather, of the space.

Elizabeth Gilbert put it so perfectly today when asked “Why don’t you meditate?”:

“Well, because it’s difficult. But I’m not afraid of difficult things, generally speaking, so why haven’t I been able to meditate every day? 

Here comes the truth: Because it’s painful.

We all come to meditation in the beginning because we want a calmer mind, a happier life. Then we are often surprised when meditation doesn’t immediately catapult us into bliss — indeed, often it’s the opposite. Because when we stop and look closely at the way our minds operate, it can be really scary to see what’s going on in there. 

The great meditation teacher Pema Chodron explains it this way: In our daily lives, our minds are like a pond with a surface rippled and troubled by the waves and wind of thoughts, distractions and busyness. When we meditate, those waves and the wind die down and the pond becomes calm and smooth…and that’s when we can finally see what lurks under the surface of that clear, smooth water — all the industrial waste of our resentments, the dead bodies caused by our anger, the twisted monsters of our fear…all of which live beneath! And the reason we haven’t wanted to look closely is because all of that stuff is really, really scary. And some of it challenges our deepest assumptions about ourselves (that we are good or nice people, for instance — when, in fact there might be a lot of rage and pain under there.)

And once you see it, you have to start cleaning it out.

Sometimes it’s easier not to look.”

Yes, it takes discipline. And willpower. And likely some discomfort. Yet, developing a practice of daily meditation is the best gift I have ever given myself.

I have very few physical pains in my meditations these days, even the emotional waste has been sorted and stacked. I may have years ahead of cleaning it out, but that’s a practice I’ve come to enjoy. With a dedicated practice of mindfulness, at least I know I’m not adding more junk to the pile. It takes strength, balance, commitment, fluidity, and discipline–a dance I will forever be a disciple. And perhaps the only dancing I can do without drinking;)

I leave you with this: In your meditation practice, if you have one, try for a few days to be very disciplined in your posture and movements. Do a scanning meditation where you start at your head, slowly breathing through every inch of your body downward to your toes. When you get to your toes, come back up. If there is any pain, resistance, knots, etc., invite breath into those spots. Halt your scan for a few breaths while you send your energy there. See what happens. If you’re new to meditation, you can try this too. Just be patient. It might not all be bliss and sunshine;) But glimpses of both will keep you coming back!

#Onward and inward

Much Love,


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