In our very first episode of the Becoming Mindful Podcast you will find out more about our vision and goals for this podcast. We introduce ourselves and our progress on the journey to mindfulness so far. We present different definitions of mindfulness as well as misconceptions around it.
Show Notes & Links
Thich Naht Hanh https://plumvillage.org
Sylvia Boorsteain Mindfulness Teachings http://www.sylviaboorstein.com
Eckhart Tolle https://eckharttolle.com
Dan Siegel and his Mindsight Institute https://www.mindsightinstitute.com
Leo Babauta & ZenHabits https://zenhabits.net
Janet Lansbury & Mindful Parenting https://www.janetlansbury.com
Matthieu Richard & Altruism https://www.matthieuricard.org
Association Montessori International:
– About Maria Montessori https://montessori-ami.org/resource-library/facts/biography-maria-montessori
– About Montessori Approach https://montessori-ami.org/about-montessori
Maria: Welcome to the Becoming Mindful Podcast.
Today we’ll be talking about what mindfulness is and where we are in our journey to mindfulness as well as what we bring to this conversation.
Jackie: And I’m Jackie and we are becoming mindful.
Maria: Welcome everyone and we’re so glad you’re listening to our podcast.
Jackie: thanks for joining us on this journey as we explore mindfulness and dive into the topic of it further
Maria: As this is our first episode and also our first podcast we’ve ever made together, we wanted to talk a little bit about why we’re doing this podcast. Our vision for this podcast is to understand and inspire my mindfulness practices in our lives as well as in our audience’s lives. We want to explore the application of mindfulness in the real world. And all of this we want to base on research and first hand experiences.
Jackie: We really hope that the podcast that we’re creating is going to open the conversation around mindfulness more broadly. Right now the texts and most of the research around mindfulness is really dominated by men, mainly academics, and in privileged circles. So while recognizing that Maria and I are both privileged in many ways as well, we want to bring the female experience into the conversation and really elevate a younger generation’s voice and what this practice means to us specifically. We’re going to try to keep this a really well rounded conversation though. So we will not invite your input into our conversations and will also bring in research and other experts who have insight into mindfulness to really grow this topic and explore the depths of it.
Maria: I think we really want to invite everyone listening to it to chime in as well. We want some feedback of course and we want to make this interesting and bring up topics that are important not just for us. Mainly we want to go into our journey and what our steps are to figure out this big thing called mindfulness.
Jackie: On that note, we’d like to give you a little background on who we are and what our backgrounds are. So Maria, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Maria: Sure. So I am originally from Germany and I live in the US now with my husband and a very rambunctious toddler. Professionally I am in the IT space, so the computer nerd I guess. But one of my really big passions is art and I’m an artist and I paint – mainly watercolors at the moment. In addition I love crafting, gardening and everything related to nature. Being in nature is a really big part of what I like. We also have two dogs. With a household with many hobbies, an engineer husband who also is an introvert like me, and as I said the toddler and two dogs, really makes mindfulness something that I look forward to exploring with you, Jackie. Why don’t you tell us a little bit who you are?
Jackie: Alright well i am a i’m really passionate about photography and music nature and yoga so you can usually find me indulging in one of those but I’m also I’m very curious I love to explore new things and new places with my husband and my dog so my life is kind of taken a lot of different directions and mindfulness practices have really helped to steer my explorations in positive directions so mindfulness keeps me in alignment and that’s why I work to share these teachings so excited about the conversations we are going to be having
Maria: yeah oh and yeah what I kinda forgot about is you know what you mentioned with new places and yeah I’m I’m definitely also very passionate about different places in the world and traveling and exploration part of you know like the sciencey part of everything is it’s also something that’s a passion for me yeah which I think we definitely want to bring into this podcast as well as researching some things and making sure we we look at it also from that kind of background right
Jackie: absolutely and the I think there’s so much ancient wisdom around mindfulness but there’s also especially recently so much really scientific studies that have been done in recent years so I think you know we can find the overlaps there and the way that they compliment each other so will bring in the best of both worlds.
Maria: so with that you know word we have kind of poked our noses into this topic a little bit so I think what I wanna do is talk a bit about how far we are on this journey already and see kind of get a feel for what might be our next steps or you know what our exposure to my influence has been so far ’cause both of us are on the journey maybe started the journey we’re not on the same and the steam level yet but I would definitely say we’re starting Jackie why don’t you give us a little bit of background of your exposure to mindfulness.
Jackie: sure, I’m a yoga and meditation instructor so I am lucky enough to work on these practices that exercise mindfulness muscles everyday but it’s it’s taken a long journey to get here. Like a lot of people I used to live very busy and very distracted there’s always a lot going on and trying to you know totally full agenda every day. But then I found myself moving to Colorado for all the reasons that everyone loves to move to Colorado. It’s a beautiful amazing place. What I really found when I moved there was a lot of isolation which was actually really good thing that led to a lot of introspection and less noise in my life.
So I kind of fell into some mindfulness practices and I really started noticing that they brought healing to the lifestyle that I’ve been living for so long so I started seeking out intentionally looking for you know research and more information on it and really looking for edification. And that’s where I am now I would say. Constantly humbling but simultaneously a very nurturing practice so I’m fumbling through it.
Maria I know your path is a little bit different so I’d love it if you could share how you have found yourself hosting a mindfulness podcast
Maria: yes so I definitely was interested in meditation and mindfulness for a while but for any maybe a more shallow level I guess. You know being younger without children, mindfulness wasn’t necessarily a priority. Apparently I wasn’t a busy life person either, so I guess it was rather the opposite of what you have experienced. So it was more, I don’t know how to describe it, not necessarily apathy but I was not really recognizing stuff, but just kind of living, you know.
And getting older you start to get this kind of discontent and anxiety about a lot of things in your life – how things are going and how you are living your life just in general. It seems like that. I also wanted to change some habits that I wasn’t happy with. So that’s kind of where my introduction to mindfulness started.
I looked at this book from Leo Babouta who is a Zen blogger, journalist and author. It’s called Zen Habits and you also have the block with the same name. It was mostly about changing your habits and how to do that in a sustainable way. But it did introduce me to mindfulness meditation and this concept of and nonjudgmental acceptance of discomfort. Which is really a very interesting topic I think. Definitely related to mindfulness. I think we’re definitely gonna go into that at some point more deeply. Not that I was super successful in changing my habits, otherwise maybe I wouldn’t necessarily be at this stage here with mindfulness, I don’t know. But it’s definitely a process.
And then there are two reasons. One really big one: I became a mother. So now you’re introducing a lot more noise into my life, right? And also as to what am I giving my child on their way, right – so the whole parenting part. I looked at a lot of parenting books and one of the ones that was always recommended very much was Janet Lansbury’s book. It’s called “No Bad Kids”. Jenny Lansbury used to be an actress in the 70s and became an educator. She has this podcast called “unruffled”. This and her book go really into this whole peaceful parenting approach. With the main components being the non judgmental observing and not reacting right away. And so there’s this thread that starts to emerge now.
One of the other things I was looking at doing was the Montessori approach. I really like the Montessori approach, which is was coined by Maria Montessori an Italian physician in the 40s (*actually early 20th century) and she had this new approach for education that is very child led. It is all around observing what the child really needs and what the child is interested in. It is a very complex but very interesting topic. Again, I think a lot of this is very related to mindfulness.
Another parenting book I was reading is called “the whole brain child” by Dr Dan Siegel and he also has a book for the adult side of this which is called “mindsight” and it’s all about brain development as well as the integration of your brain regions . There’s a lot of mindfulness in that one too. It’s kind of the scientific approach to that topic. Very very interesting. I definitely have to reread that again. So he’s looking from the parenting side, which is how I found him, how you interact with your child and emotional regulation is what that’s all about.
But then there’s another reason, another topic that kind of led me to mindfulness a little bit. That was the “Altruism” by Matthieu Richard, he is French. Which you actually introduced to me to. Altruism and how you interact with other beings and other humans I feel has a lot to do with mindfulness.
Jackie: And Altruism it’s such a fascinating topic and I’m sure we’ll go into it a lot more because you’re right it’s very much aligned with mindfulness. And I feel like it’s emergent from mindfulness. When you begin mindfulness practices you’re drawn more toward altruism.
Maria: Absolutely. So that’s my background. All of these examples, all of these areas, require mindfulness, I believe. So that’s how I got to the topic.
I mentioned a lot of books here. My background is very theoretical. I mean not really, because I also am doing some of these things in my parenting and applying them somewhat. But I definitely want to incorporate a lot more of that and want to dive deeper into mindfulness. I feel you had more exposure to mindfulness than I do and I would like to embrace that a little bit more into my day to day life of course.
Jackie: I love your journey toward mindfulness. I mean to explore these topics as a new mother – that’s incredibly ambitious and I think you’ve taken a really intentional approach to learn mindfulness. So I think I can learn a lot from you too.
Maria: Thanks. Yeah, also very different lifestyles.
Jackie: I think a lot of people can relate to parts of both of our stories and both of our backgrounds.
Now you have a little bit of an idea of what our motives were and what brought us to this conversation and to what we’re trying to do here. So let’s get a baseline now and make sure we’re on the same page as to what mindfulness is and what exactly we’re talking about here. Maria, how would you define mindfulness?
Maria: Very good question because it’s a very big word for being just one word, right?
For me, I feel mindfulness is all about awareness. Being aware of things, living in the present moment and taking in all of the impressions to your senses, not only from the outside but also from the inside, like your bodily functions, your feelings and the world around you such as nature, other people and their intentions and actions. And all of that in a very non judgmental way. I felt that that’s my definition of mindfulness, how I view it. So: awareness, present moment and the non judgmental component. Those are really, I think, my keys for what I feel mindfulness is. Obviously there are tons of different definitions, so yours might be a little bit different.
Jackie: I completely agree with everything that you just said and I think that non judgmental component that you mentioned is really key. We’re moving our own influence or our own story around a moment and allowing it to have autonomy. Allow it to just happen. And I think that is what allows us to remain calm and peaceful because we’re not attaching ourselves to what’s going on around us, we are just an observer.
On that note, let’s talk about some of the prominent figures in mindfulness and what they have to say about it.
I’d like to bring in Sylvia Boorstein who agrees with this definition as well. Sylvia Boorstein has been teaching mindfulness since the 80s and she said “mindfulness is the aware balanced acceptance of the present experience”
Maria: Oh wow,that’s a mouthful.
Jackie: Yeah I know, it’s so heavy but it’s also so appealing. I love it. To experience content in every moment. The way she said it’s so simple and yet it’s really hard and complex.
Maria: I like it, mindfulness being the aware balanced acceptance of the present experience. Definitely, that’s it, right?
Now there’s other people that have their thoughts on mindfulness. I wanted to bring a quote from Eckhart Tolle, who is a spiritual teacher and a bestselling author. And he said: “realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make it the primary focus of your life”
Jackie: That’s a really heavy statement too.
Maria: It’s the present moment again, right? You have to be there in the present moment.
Jackie: Yeah and make that the primary focus of your life? I mean, we live so much in the past and in the future. So, to make the present moment your primary focus? I mean, I know I have a lot of work to do there.
Maria: Right. I mean just thinking about what we’ve talked about so far in this episode: We talked about what we have done, and what are our goals for the future. It’s really interesting because a lot of our lives revolve around that. And making the present moment the primary focus of your life is very heavy.
Jackie: It’s tall order.
Maria: Very interesting. But you also have to take all of that with a little bit of humor, right? You can’t just be super heavy on this. And actually Eckhart Tolle is kind of a funny guy. He makes a lot of jokes. When asked about mindfulness and the word mindfulness, he said in one of his videos: “Mindfulness has become almost acceptable. More acceptable than presence. It is the same thing of course.” But he said: “I don’t use my fullness because it implies that your mind is full.” So he is actually making jokes about the word mindfulness and his personal preference is the word presence.
Jackie: It seems to be that these people who studied mindfulness for so long they all share this lightness, this humor. I think it’s their humility that just makes them find humor in so many things.
Maria: I’ve noticed that too. There is always some little joke in these videos and these books and it’s really funny. But again, even this really talks about the present moment again – presence. But also the observation part of it: not acting but observing.
Jackie: Yeah, becoming the observer. I have to bring in Thich Nhat Hanh, who I’m sure I will mention again. He’s a revered spiritual leader, He’s a peaceful activist. He’s a monk and he’s just really influenced the teachings of mindfulness. One of the many wise things that he said was: “When we are mindful – deeply in touch with the present moment – our understanding of what is going on deepens and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.” and I just thought that was so beautiful. He’s describing that mindfulness is a method of finding peace through presence. It feels so attainable, you know.
Maria: Yeah but also joy and love too. I mean there really is friendliness to it too. I like that a lot.
Jackie: There really is a whole component of compassion and kindness there.
Maria, you mentioned Dan Siegel here earlier. What does he have to say as far as mindfulness from a more western science based perspective?
Maria: Right. So Dan Siegel is a psychiatrist and so definitely has a more scientific view on this. He also has a definition or actually multiple definitions for mindfulness and I’m just going to give you a summary of what he said because it would be a little bit too long to give you the full quote. He said mindfulness is a form of brain hygiene.
Jackie: I love that is that.
Maria: Right? Isn’t that funny?
Jackie: That’s perfect.
Maria: OK you brush your teeth … you know brush your brain. You clean out your brain with mindfulness. I love it.
But he said, generally, there are 3 big ways of defining mindfulness. You have #1 just the plain English definition: being conscientious, caring and intentional. The second one is what he calls the contemplative form: to be present and on purpose without judgment. Very much jives with what we’ve heard so far. And then the third one, he calls creative mindfulness: not coming to premature closures on assumptions but remaining open minded. So that one is somewhat of an outlier to what we heard before, I think. I guess it falls into the non judgmental part but also is kind of a more scientific view on it. I mean, the scientific method is like that: you know you are always open to new findings.
Jackie: Yeah. Like you said it’s a different way of saying non judgmental but I think it’s more actionable. Not coming to premature closures – I think I can wrap my head around that, understand how to execute that. So it’s a little more tangible.
You know we really deeply respect the teachers that we have and will continue to mention in this podcast but we’ve also noticed through our research that these modern stages often are from a very privileged class and that helps perpetuate a lot of misconceptions about mindfulness: like it’s elitist or unattainable in some ways.
So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about some of the misconceptions around mindfulness.
Maria: Yeah, there’s quite a few. The biggest one for me personally is this whole being elitist, that you mentioned. So you have this elitist, closed group of people that you somehow can’t access as a normal person. You have these sages that are mostly white males, maybe with a wife at home that does all the domestic labor for them so they can do their thing and contemplate things and philosophize about things. And it feels kind of elitist and enclosed and not accessible to a lot of other people.
Jackie: Yeah, I know that that image, at least what you see on social media, is being very unrealistic a lot of times. I mean even if you’re looking at an image of someone sitting quietly, undisturbed at some tropical meditation retreat, you know that’s not really realistic for most of us if that’s what mindfulness is. We find mindfulness in the messiness of life too.
Maria: I mean it’s definitely hard to showcase mindfulness in a picture. I think a lot of the time you see these images on the screen, on TV or I don’t know Instagram. It’s like this is almost commoditizing, like some sort of product.
Jackie: Right, it’s a commercialized version of mindfulness.
Maria: I think that’s one of the misconceptions too – that it’s something to sell – a product. I think another one that I’ve always felt is that it sounds like some sort of fad. Like a diet or some sort of quick fix. The quick fix to happiness – sunshine and rainbows and perfect bliss just through a little meditation here and there.
Jackie: It’s just a couple of positive mantras and you’re on your way.
Maria: Right. Just like snap your finger and do this three times a day for 3 minutes a day or whatever. It seems fake.
Jackie: There’s a perception that it’s a passive activity and that it’s easy, or that it’s about being apathetic. But it’s really the opposite of that. To be present and to be honest about the world is really difficult. I think it takes a lot of work and time to build the resilience that’s actually needed to support the level of humility that comes with these practices. And maybe that’s why the people that we follow and that we’ve been watching have that sense of humor and that lightness to it. Because it’s just so there and open and in front of their face.
Maria: But I think realistically mindfulness is not any of that and it goes a lot deeper than that. It can have a very big impact on your life. I don’t know, Jackie, what do you think? For you personally, how can mindfulness positively impact your life?
Jackie: There are so many ways mindfulness can impact my life or the whole world. OK, so there’s been a lot of research recently around mindfulness and we’ve learned a lot about the effects that mindfulness practices can realistically have on a person. We’ve found that it can increase empathy and increase compassion. It improves mental health and lowers stress. This helps to alleviate feelings of suffering and make us more aware of ourselves. It makes us more aware of each other and makes us more aware of the entire world that we’re a part of. It has been known to increase happiness, make us feel freer and make us more accepting. So if the Pharmaceutical industry could package that into a pill we would all be lining up to take it.
Maria: Yeah but they better not. That’s the last thing we want.
Jackie: Right. But thinking about all of those effects, if we could distribute those more widely in our world we would all feel more connected, and would be mentally healthier. We’d be compassionate leaders and have more resilient activists. And so I just think that the impacts of integrating mindfulness from the biggest problems that our world faces to the personal struggles that we each individually work through. It could help all of us in so many ways and transform so many of the things that we struggle with as a society and as individuals. I hope that doesn’t sound too idealistic. I know I’m an optimist but I dream of a world where we have mindfulness practices in our schools and we’re teaching children these helpful life skills that they can use to navigate their journey to adulthood and their whole lives. The Dalai Lama actually said: “If every eight year old in the world was taught meditation we would eliminate violence from the world in one generation.” Maria, as a parent, what are your thoughts around mindfulness and how we raise our children?
Maria: I have to agree with what you say and what the Dalai Lama said because I believe that mindfulness can help break cycles of the previous generation’s parenting methods, which often were detrimental if not even traumatic to children and the following generations. Because that’s the “gift” that keeps on giving. It just goes on as generational trauma and things that people have to unpack. And a lot of times people do not have the tools. I think mindfulness practiced by the parents and if taught in schools or early on is just something that you can take with you your whole life. It gives you things like emotional regulation. Mindfulness can definitely help there. You can have a nice little mindfulness toolbox that you can give on to your children and your grandchildren and make the world a better place. You can have a happier and more content life for your child and future generations.
Jackie: That’s beautiful. I think modern life is constantly teaching us how to not be mindful or asking us not to be mindful. As we were talking about earlier, we’re always having to plan and be in control and be organized. Those are all useful things but need to be balanced then with presence and living more in the moment. That slower, more intentional pace can be viewed as lazy sometimes in our society and qualities like kindness can be viewed as a weakness. Even just being present can be threatening to what we might call productivity. Actual execution of mindfulness is very foreign to our culture. So we need to practice it as a discipline and work on it as a skill as we would any skill. So there are constantly things that are bringing us out of mindfulness and so we just need to be disciplined about working toward it. But I think it’s worth putting in the time.
Maria: Yeah absolutely. And like you said, how it’s kind of viewed as lazy or weakness. That is definitely something I see in the current society, at least western society. People feel they cannot just sit still and do nothing. It’s almost like they’re scared of doing nothing or not being busy or being by themselves. Those are definitely things that we have to learn and where mindfulness comes into play and can teach that.
Jackie: I remember when I first started doing yoga, the pose of savasana, where you’re simply laying silently for an extended period of time, was one of the hardest poses and I think it’s one of the hardest poses for so many people because it’s just simply in lying there and being for an extended period of time for several minutes. It’s really fascinating how difficult that is, but it is.
Maria: Right. Just with any meditation a lot of people have issues with when they start because suddenly you’re doing nothing. You’re just sitting there with your thoughts and not trailing off into their thoughts is very very hard for people ’cause we’re taught the exact opposite. But I think mindfulness really is the key to a content life. I’m saying content because I try not to say happiness too much because happiness is really not something that you can sustainably achieve. It’s not something you constantly have. Constant happiness is not really realistic and it’s not really desirable either. That’s why I chose the word content.
Jackie: It’s an important distinction.
Maria: Right. I think so too because chasing your happiness or finding your happiness is just another form of not being mindful, I feel. Because you’re looking to be happy but then you know you can’t really ever sustainably achieve happiness.
Jackie: Right. You are always reaching for that.
Maria: So if you are content or you are in the present moment then that’s it. Maybe it’s a rephrasing of what happens to living in the present moment and experiencing the present moment and not missing what truths the world holds – not letting it fly by you but observing things. Also the observing versus reacting part of mindfulness and the non judgmental part of mindfulness I think are very important so you can see other peoples views and don’t just react to them so you can actually be a better human being with more compassion and more kindness. Because you can actually see other people not just yourself.
Jackie: Absolutely. To be present with someone when you’re speaking with them, when you’re being with them, is such an incredibly respectful way of interacting with someone.
Maria: Right and it’s really hard. And there are other things that play a role and make it harder for people to do that.
Maria: I think definitely be more compassionate, be more kind, not projecting yourself or your own feelings onto someone or something else.
The other big part [of mindfulness] is the awareness of your own body – the inside view. Seeing what’s going on with your feelings and your physical bodily functions can have a big impact on your physical as well as your mental health.
Jackie: Absolutely, the mind-body connection.
Maria: I think both of us feel that mindfulness is very important. Obviously we do otherwise we wouldn’t do a podcast and wouldn’t be on this journey. Because it’s so important for us that we even started a podcast, we hope that listeners also can also benefit from it and be part of this journey with us.
Jackie: We hope you can see the positive impact that integrating mindfulness into our society could have on the well being of everyone and everything on this planet.
Maria: You heard us briefly mention a lot of topics. We like to dive deeper on those in the future. Things like meditation, mindful parenting and some of these people that we mentioned before, teachers and leaders in the mindfulness movement. But there’s a lot of other topics that are adjacent that we want to dive into. Things like equality, mental health and alot more. Those we want to explore in future episodes. Next month we have chosen to dive into the roots of mindfulness and explore the history behind it as well as some of the people who have gotten it to where it is at now.
Jackie: So we hope you continue to join us and learn with us through this ongoing and open conversation. You can find more information about how to subscribe and links to everything that we talked about today in our show notes and on our website becomingmindfulpodcast.com and on our social media @becomingmindfulpodcast
Maria: Thank you for listening and as we said before: if you like this episode and wanna hear more please come back, subscribe and we also appreciate any comments, questions and reviews.
Jackie: Be well, friends.