Written by Francine Baffa, LICSW, BCBA-D
Edited by Joe DeNoon
“Enlightenment, joy, and peace can never be given to you by another. The well is inside you.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Anxiety and all its symptoms are friendly alarms letting us know when we’re innocently misusing the beautiful gift of peace. When we see that our own thinking creates our own experience, there’s a greater opportunity for us to define that safe space, to make it a haven for ourselves to find refuge.
However, the path to that place of quiet and inner joy is often not one easily traveled. Much like arriving at a familiar destination in your car and having no idea how you got there, living life on auto-pilot steals moments right out from under you. It’s so easy to zone out, and it’s ok to let it happen occasionally, but for the most part, living mindfully means paying attention to every moment we are lucky enough to experience.
For health care providers, mindfulness practice eases symptoms of burnout, while improving engagement, sense of meaning, and the ability to navigate difficult conversations with patients and to feel empathy. The enhanced self-awareness and emotion regulation resulting from mindfulness practice also enhances teamwork, decision-making, and ultimately patient safety.
All the major spiritual traditions serve the purpose of offering us a roadmap to guide us on our individual journeys to enlightenment. These roadmaps are made up of moral codes, parables, and, in some cases, detailed descriptions of mystical states. In the same way, when we plan a road trip, we carry maps and guidebooks in an effort to understand where we are going. In both cases, though, the journey has a life of its own and maps, while helpful, can only take us so far. There is just no comparison between looking at a line on a piece of paper and driving your own car down the road that line represents.
In the end, the only reliable compass is within, as every great spiritual guide will tell you. The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full of useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us. When it is time to merge onto the highway or pull up anchor, we are ostensibly on our own. Strange weather patterns, closed roads, and traffic jams arise in the moment, out of nowhere, and our maps cannot tell us what to do. Whether we take refuge in a motel by the side of the road, persevere and continue forward, or turn back altogether is entirely up to us.
Maps are based on observations from the past, but we are living in the present and the only true experts on our journey. We may find that the road traveled by our predecessors is now closed. We may feel called to change direction entirely so that the maps we have been carrying really no longer apply. These are the moments when we learn to attune ourselves to our inner compass, following a map that only we can see, as we make our way into the unknown territory of our own mindful enlightenment.
How can you practice being more fully alive and more awake in your own life?
- Sit in stillness. Stop moving, stop doing, stop planning and living in the future.
- Connect with another person, smile, and make eye contact. Connections are what add depth and meaning to our day to day.
- Tune in to your body, let it move, and feed it well. Practice awareness of your senses. Listen to the sounds around you, feel what you are touching and smell what’s cooking.
- Give love to yourself and others. As you become aware of the negative self-talk in your mind, you can work towards becoming gentle with yourself.
- Accept things the way they are. It will give you a sense of freedom. That which we resist persists.
Simply because airplanes can operate on complete auto-pilot doesn’t mean that humans should follow their lead!
On the airwaves of your life, you’re the one navigating. Choose your destination, feel the wind in your hair, thrive in the experience, and feel the excitement every part of the way.