“A wild elephant has many wild habits. It runs away when humans approach. It attacks when frightened. Our mind is similar. When it senses danger, it runs away from the present.” — Jan Chozen Bays, MD in How to Train a Wild Elephant
Over the past several years, I’ve been drawn to elephants. I had no idea why, but I found myself gravitating to pictures of elephants, shirts with elephants on them, elephant figurines…you name it, and I wanted to touch it or have it if it had an elephant on it.
I definitely wondered why I had such a fascination with this animal all of a sudden, and I guess I sort of chalked it up to Ganesha. Ganesha permeates the yoga world…you can’t go anywhere these days without hearing Ganesha in a song, in a mantra, as a figurine on the mantel in a yoga studio, on a variety of yoga clothing…you get the idea. It makes sense. After all, Ganesha is the Hindu Lord of Good Fortune, the Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles (both material and spiritual). And let’s face it. Many of us westerners come to yoga because we want to be better human beings, right? If we can remove the obstacles from our lives, we can have new beginnings and good fortune will come our way. Who doesn’t want that?
For me, yoga began as a physical practice. I just wanted some relief from the pain in my body, and some relaxation. Over the years, I’ve definitely evolved into a much more spiritual practice, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog.
Last month, I attended a training towards my RYT-500 certification, and it revolved all around the chakras and consciousness. It got very scientific, which I loved, because I learned SO much about how the brain and the mind work. (For those of you who don’t know what the chakras are, there are a variety of definitions…I refer to them as the 7 main centers of spiritual energy in the body).
In this training, we were referred to the book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness”, by Jan Chozen Bays, MD. We didn’t get into the book too much, but as soon as I heard it contained mindfulness exercises, I had to buy a copy for myself. Mindfulness is something I struggle with constantly, so any help I can get to improve this area of my life is most welcome. And I love homework!
Let me just say…I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK! In just reading her introduction, I finally understood my fascination with elephants after all these years. You see, mindfulness is deliberately paying attention — full attention — to what’s going on around you and within you, right here, right now. It is being aware of these things without criticism or judgment.
Training your mind in the art of mindfulness takes a lot of work for some people. Me, for sure! In the book, the author equates training the mind to be more mindful to training a wild elephant. For example, until the elephant is tamed, it has to be tethered to a stake, have all distractions removed, and have certain tasks repeated over and over again until the elephant learns them. Similarly, to train our minds to be more mindful, we need to practice certain behaviors over and over again until we achieve the calm mind and can incorporate these behaviors without even thinking about them. And when we are more mindful, we can more easily get rid of the things in our lives that make us unhappy.
Doing this is SO hard for me! When I’m at work, I’m on it…I can focus like nobody’s business. But focusing on the things that will help me lead a happier life is such a challenge! I don’t know why, but it is SO hard to practice mindfulness. It literally makes my brain hurt.
Even with a pretty regular meditation practice, I still have trouble staying in the present moment. I constantly zone out, fret about the past, worry about the future. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this!
If you’re looking to get better at the art of mindfulness, I highly encourage you to peruse a copy of this book. There are a variety of mindfulness exercises for you to practice, all in attempt to help you get better at being mindful. Each exercise has a description of the task and some ideas about how to remind yourself to do it when you need to, a description of other people’s discoveries with the task (their observations and insights), and then the deeper lessons you can learn from practicing the exercise.
For example, the one I am working on this week is “Leave no trace”, where I am to practice using one room in my house where I leave no trace that I’ve ever used it. The kitchen is the room I am choosing to focus on, as I tend to make all kinds of messes in there! The deeper lesson to this exercise is to put a spotlight on the tendency to be lazy. When I’m lazy, it tends to mean that I make more work for others, as they have to come clean up the mess I’ve left behind. That’s not cool!
How am I doing on this one? Well, let’s just say, I might need to spend an extra week on it! But I noticed that I am now starting to realize when I am leaving something in a way other than how I found it. Before, I don’t think I ever paid attention. So…progress is happening, albeit slowly.
There are SO many ways we can practice being mindful. If you are practicing this on your own, I’d love to hear what you do. Reply with a comment and share your tips on tricks on being more mindful. If you don’t have any, no worries! Maybe that’s your sign that now is the time to start a mindfulness practice. I’m here if you’d like my help in keeping you accountable.
Namaste and have a sparkling day!