Mindfulness is being in the present moment in an open and friendly way. It's both mind-training and heart-training.You can start right where you are.
In last week’s Truth Tuesday post, I wrote about my terminated YouTube channel; about the frustration, blame, and disbelief that arose in me, and about my path back to perspective, intention, and love. As a follow-up, I recorded a video, calling people to “protest” YouTube (and all automated or uncaring decisions) by being the change we want to see.
On Sunday, I received an email from YouTube. It was a terse message that my “Born Joy: Mindfulness” channel was terminated for repeated violations of the community guidelines. My first thought: This is a phishing email. Upon closer look, I saw it was legitimate. Then came my second thought: Someone hacked my account.
A wandering mind is an uneasy mind. When our attention is split between many things or when we can't focus on the one thing right in front of us, we feel anxious and uncomfortable. This result is shown through direct experience as well as through scientific studies.
I grew up with a purple lilac bush. During springtime, I remember its colorful blooms and vibrant aroma. When my parents downsized to a condo, I expressed interest in the lilac. Not to dig it up (it was far too big), but to propagate a child of the plant here in my Wisconsin backyard.
Last Monday, after my long prison day, I felt a new understanding of impermanence. We did meditations on body sensations—noticing how they shift, pulse, and vibrate; how the changing nature of our bodies is okay. It’s not wrong, it’s natural. On my drive home, I listened to a dharma talk that encouraged more investigation: watch the nature of sensations, then open awareness to death—what if I no longer exist? In my expanded awareness, I was okay because I was present, alive in the moment.
On Monday, in prison pastorals and groups, I witnessed rich and varied stories: An inmate struggling to love himself (even like himself). This motivated him to practice loving-kindness inward. He easily expresses compassion for others yet realized how little he has for himself. Now he does daily compassion prayers inward. Through tears he said, “I don’t know why it’s so hard. I don’t know why I feel so undeserving.”
Our first day in Haiti, we traveled from Port-au-Prince to Caneille, located in the rural Central Plateau. During the car trip, I looked out the window in wonder. It felt like a novel unfolding: each new visual told a story. The landscape changed from urban to mountain view to rolling-hill farmland. The sights were abundant and interesting: tap-taps carrying large numbers of people, kids hauling water uphill on makeshift wheel barrows…
Haiti is on my mind and in my heart. I’ll be processing this trip for months. It was an experience like none I’ve ever had. For six days, we were immersed in rural Haitian culture, language, and life. The homesteads in Caneille have no electricity or running water; they rarely have a latrine. People must walk miles to fill jugs of safe drinking water. Ten people sleep in a hut the size of most American living rooms.
In my last years as a professor, I saw something clearly: we give students little space to make mistakes; to mess things up in a safe environment; to experiment, fail, and try again. And now, away from academia, I still see this pattern. We don't often come as we are, we come as we think we should be.
When I teach mindfulness, the first exercise I give is red-light practice: View red lights as an invitation to pause, breathe, and be. Rarely are we told to "stop and take a break," yet red lights do just that. They remind us to pause. Three breaths of awareness can make a big difference. Often, students say, "I wish there were more red lights."