by Jennifer Egert, PhD, New York City
I had a picture in my head: swimming in a pond at the base of a waterfall. Six months after the arrival of COVID-19, I craved an experience to “feel alive” again and planned a visit to upstate New York to see good friends. The first morning, my friend called. “The waterfall is down the street, will be there soon.”
Aware of the thoughts: Can I keep balance? Will it be too steep? I took a deep breath, noted the nervousness, tightness in the chest, and stepped into the icy water. A shock to the body, coldness on the skin, the sound of the waterfall, feeling alive, and breathing. This is mindfulness practice – the openness to and awareness of the present moment, the pleasant and unpleasant body sensations, the emotions and thoughts that arise and fall away.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, credited as the father of the Western secular mindfulness movement, defines mindfulness as: paying attention, on purpose, to whatever is unfolding in the present moment, nonjudgmentally. It is a practice of “being with” whatever our experience is, pleasant or unpleasant, with curiosity and acceptance. Acceptance is acknowledging that part of being human, is to feel, to experience joy, anger, loneliness, and everything in between. Much of our suffering comes from wanting things to be other than they are, trying to seek out and prolong pleasure and avoid discomfort. If we wish to be more present to our lives, less reactive, we practice being present and curious no matter what the experience before us is.
Mindfulness practice takes many forms. It can be sitting on a cushion or chair, paying attention to the breath, guiding attention back when it wanders. It can be yoga, walking or moving slowly in a wheelchair, paying attention to sensation in the body. It is also bringing attention to ordinary activities like eating, brushing teeth, and the five senses. Mindfulness practice includes awareness of emotions, noticing tension in the body, noticing aliveness with curiosity rather than judgment. Practice looks different for everyone, and part of it is trying different approaches. There is no “perfect practice.” We learn and forget and learn again and keep practicing.
One of the greatest lessons of mindfulness practice is the knowledge that everything changes. Whether a joyous moment, a great loss, or pain, it will change. We have been shown this reality in the past several months. It is helpful to know when we are feeling lost or isolated that these moments will change. How to face them with self-compassion, kindness, and the question, ‘What would be helpful right now?’ – this is the task.
I often ask my patients, “You know those times when you thought, ‘I’ll never get through this. It is too hard.’ Have you ever been right? If you are sitting here reading this right now – you have never been right. Remind yourself of this truth. It isn’t easy, but somehow, we find a way to move into the icy water and feel alive again.
Below is a list of some of Dr. Jennifer Egert and Dr. David Younger’s favorite resources for mindfulness practice. It by no means represents all the wonderful resources out there. There are so many books,apps, podcasts, blogs to choose from. These are some places to start. Find what speaks to you.
Workshops for learning mindfulness
- Mindfulness Center at Brown University. MBSR courses, online and in person.
- UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC). MBSR courses, online and in person.
- UMass Memorial Center for Mindfulness. MBSR courses, online and in person.
- Mindfulness Meditation New York Collaborative. MBSR courses, online and in person.
- Mindful Self-Compassion course.
- 10 Percent Happier: Dan Harris’ app based on his book of the same name, featuring some of the most popular western Buddhist teachers speaking and writing today. Lots of good education about what mindfulness practice is, interesting interviews with the teachers along with training in mindfulness practice
- Insight Timer: a mediation timer and thousands of meditation audios to follow along with, all different kinds of meditations and teachers.
- Liberate: A meditation app focused on teachings for and by people of color
- Head Space: A secular training program in mindfulness meditation, along with practices targeted at specific issues (e.g., sleep, anxiety, etc)
- Waking up: By Sam Harris, great app for education about meditation, brain training and practices towards these ends.
- Ten Percent Happier Podcast with Dan Harris
- Tara Brach Podcast
- Mindfulness for Beginners, hosted by Shaun Donaghy
Great Books to Begin With
- Mindfulness for Beginners, book and audio, Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Full catastrophe living, Jon Kabat-Zinn
- 10% Happier: How I tamed the Voice in My head, Reduced Stress Without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-help that actually works, Dan Harris
- The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, By Pema Chodron
- Calming your Anxious Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You From Anxiety, Fear and Panic, by Jeffery Brantley with a forward by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens: Mindfulness Skills to Help You Deal with Stress, by Gina M. Biegel.
Mindfulness and Chronic Illness/Pain
- How to be Sick, by Toni Bernhard
- Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, by Saki Santorelli
- TheMighty.com (blog about chronic illness)
- You are Not Your Pain, Vidyamala Burch
- Break Through Pain: A Step-by-Step Mindfulness Meditation Program for Transforming Chronic and Acute Pain, Shinzen Young
- The Mindful Path to Self Compassion, Chris Germer
- Self-compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Kristin Neff
- Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach
- Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg
- How to Be Nice to Yourself: The Everyday Guide to Self Compassion, Laura Silberstein-Tirch
More on Meditation
- Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, by Sylvia Boorstein
- Real Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg
- Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom, by Joseph Goldstein
- Breath by Breath, Larry Rosenberg
Neuroscience of Mindfulness
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius
Buddhism/Spirituality and Mindfulness
- When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron (any books by Pema Chodron)
- A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, by Jack Kornfield.
- Dancing with Life, Phllip Moffitt, Rodale Press
- Peace in Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki
- Fierce Grace, documentary about Teacher Ram Dass
- Walk With Me, documentary about teacher Thich Nhat Hanh