An unexpected effect from Sarah's Brilliant Mindfulness meditation course

Sunny porch, Ina Hattenhauer, illustrator. 
Ina's blog and website. Find her on Facebook and Pinterest

This is a second post where I share what I'm learning about myself while taking Brilliant Mindfulness LLC, an online meditation course taught by Sarah Rudell Beach. (The first post is here.) Sarah is trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and in the Mindful Schools Curriculum for K-12 students. (She offers courses to teachers and students, individuals, families, and businesses.) A teacher with 17 years of classroom experience, she also writes about mindfulness, education, and healthy living for the Huffington Post. I use Sarah's teachings about meditation when I present my Wonder Anew project.

I didn’t expect this. What? That I’d still be running after 28 days?

I am, you know.

I’m up to a mile and a half every day. Well, almost every day. I’ve missed a couple. (I don’t like soggy shoes.)

The part I really didn’t expect was how this new meditation ecourse would help me on and off my cushion. Especially after Sarah introduced lessons on anchors and cues.

I learned that an anchor brings me back to the present moment when my mind drifts.

Not if. When.

I’m grateful to know that I will drift because the nature of my mind is to drift. Everyone drifts. We’re drifters.

Sarah invites us to use our body as an anchor to stay present, to call back that drifter: “Here Susan. Come back. Now stay. Stay.”

The breath is one anchor.

I find it helpful to count my breaths to 10, in and out, in and out, and then start over (not as easy as it sounds—cause remember the drifting thing?). So when my mind drifts, I just come back and keep counting. I notice the feel of my breath going in through my nose and down my throat, and I exhale and notice the air I take in moves out my nostrils down over my top lip in an ever so gentle tickle. My breath lifts my chest as my lungs expand, and releases as they deflate. My belly moves out and in. This day I have deeper in-breaths and my belly moves out more than in. I aim to even my in and out breath.

Another anchor is the body. Noticing physical sensations like my bottom on the cushion, how the bend in my knees feel, maybe a muscle ache in my neck, an itch, a hot flash, cold in the small of my back, or a relaxed settling of my arms on my thighs.

And then this one I love.

I’m learning that awareness of sounds around me is a way to let go of whatever my inner roommate is yak-yak-yakking. So, these indoor anchors help me: the air conditioning handler turning on, off, or its gap in-between, Terry’s tip-tap-typing on the keyboard, or a squeak from the wood floor. Outside, it’s a downy woodpecker rat-a-tatting on the live oak, coconut palm tree fronds rustling in the breeze, or thunder rumbling in the distance.

So the breath, body, and ambient sounds anchor me to this moment on my cushion.

Then the cue lesson. A cue is a signal that shows me what comes next.

As Sarah does in most lessons, she references research. This time I learn about Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, and “the habit loop:” cue – behavior – reward. 

I do an exaggerated heel click in my mind after learning about cues (it looks like this) because I’m a forgetter! 

A cue for me is a mnemonic. So, drumroll, here are my cues:

An alarm wakes me at 5:00 AM. My awakening brings three breaths. I get out of bed and go to the bathroom. This I’ve been doing for years.

After that, I brush my teeth. Then I meditate.

So brushing my teeth is my cue to meditate.

I put two more cues into place. After I meditate, I sip a coffee. My empty coffee cup cues a mile run. Running cues that a green shake is next. Or Duhigg would say it’s a reward for my (running) behavior.

Okay, I’m grateful that I don’t get obsessive about this and cue my whole day.

Guess what? I’m on 28 days of cue and anchor-awareness. Let’s see how I do on day 66, which is now the amount of time it takes to form a new pattern. Yep, recent research upped that 21-day number. (Thanks, Sarah for the information.) 

But who’s counting? I know that practice means just that. Staying with…not perfectly, but diligently, towards progression.

There’s one more thing: meditation affects my running.

How? I run with my eyes closed.

There are no cars, the roads are even, I know the path. Closed-eye running is not Sarah’s instruction. It’s a benefit of engaging mindfully in what she teaches. My breath evens, gait smoothens, mind calms. I smile easily.

And when I get home, I sit on the porch and greet the rising golden sun harnessing light's brightness.