Slow down, focus, experience joy

By Marguerite Jill Dye

I think of Mom when I wash dishes, and relive my childhood memories. We camped in a tent, then lived in the basement of the ski lodge we built off Roaring Brook Road. Dad stoked the pot belly stove for heat with firewood he’d felled and chopped. When it was cold, Mom and I heated water on a Coleman stove. We filled two basins on the enamel table overlooking the forest view, then submerged our freezing hands in steaming suds or clear hot water. Ah! We loved washing dishes in our house in Vermont because it always warmed us up!

“Unhappiness is created whenever you are out of alignment with the present moment,” renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle said. “Presence is the dimension of consciousness. It’s an awareness that exists above thought.”

What is mindfulness? Silencing the thoughts and noise that inhabit our heads, and replacing them with stillness and intentional breath. “If we don’t have silence in ourselves—if our mind, our body, are full of noise—then we can’t hear the beauty’s call,” said beloved author, peace activist, and Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thic Nhat Hanh, who teaches the art of mindfulness and mindful walking at his spiritual center in France. His book, “How to Walk,” shows us how each step decreases suffering and increases insights, gratitude, concentration, and joie de vivre.

What is the message of mindful meditation? Slow down! Focus! Experience joy!

I’ve experienced those very sensations and connection to the divine while walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage 500 miles across Spain. The feelings of joy and elation compel me to return once again to walk the mountainous Northern Camino along the Bay of Biscayne. And by focusing on where our feet hit the ground, wherever it is that we pass, falls are prevented on challenging patches and slipping avoided on pebbly paths. Through focus, deep breathing aids steep inclines, keeps us warm in bitter cold winds, and alerts us to thirst and exhaustion from overexertion.

Is life not a series of moments in which we are free to choose our attitudes? “A think-a-holic dwells on the past, speculates on the future, and sees catastrophes in the present,” said Dr. Ali Walker. Instead of attaching a negative meaning to a particular experience, we can consciously choose mindfulness to become aware of each moment. We constantly react to childhood feelings that are rooted in the need to feel love, attention, and security. We can recognize and honor those feelings through focus and meditation. If we feel anxious with butterflies in our stomachs, we can meditate on the reason. We should trust our bodies’ sensations, and live in the flow through conscious action.

In a class on controlling the mind with spiritual teacher David Winfree, author of “The Evolution of the Human Energy Field and Humanity’s Ultimate Destiny,” based on the clairvoyant insights and teachings of Cristo L. Bowers, he said that our minds are like a computer and have many compartments and levels of thought. We have negative, positive, and neutral minds. “There’s a certain degree of risk inherent in life, but usually the worst doesn’t happen. Our negative minds look for the worst case scenario and focus on potential disasters of anything and everything that could possibly go wrong. When we find ourselves focused on a negative thought, it enhances all sorts of worries and fears and shapes our perception of reality. Winfrey suggests retraining our brains using sticky notes to remind us to pause and check in with our thoughts several times a day. If we find we’re in a negative state of mind, we can pull ourselves back and reframe that thought. How would it appear framed by serenity? By learning to control and change a negative thought to a positive or neutral one, we can shift our perspective and transform our life.

Reverend Lisa Johnson, our minister, counselor, and friend, teaches us to override the fight or flight response to stress, too. Triggers in everyday life can stress us out all day. The cortisol they increase is unhealthy and can be deadly.

Every year in the month of May we join my niece Jennifer Dye Visscher in the Walk Your AS Off Walk-a-thon that she initiated. People all over the world are walking the distance to Mars and back to increase awareness of Ankylosing Spondylitis, a progressive, debilitating auto-immune disease. As we count our steps (or distances), we count our blessings, too. We lift those up with health challenges, and pray for an AS cure.

I think of Mom as I paint at the same table where we washed dishes while living in the basement shell of our ski house as we built it. Through my studio window, soon I’ll see forget-me-nots and Marguerites emerge beneath the birch tree. “The mind is like a garden. We must weed it now and then,” said David Winfree.

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer, traveler and seeker, who lives in the Green Mountains of Vermont and on the Gulf Coast of Florida with her husband Duane. Jill leads creative spiritual retreats in the Killington Dream Lodge that her father and family built.

Photo by Marguerite Jill Dye
A peaceful crossing on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Galicia, Spain.

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