Photo Credit: Lesly Juarez, Unsplash.com

Written by Luke Iorio
September 18, 2019

James Garrett, founder of Brain by Design, recently stopped by on One Idea Away to discuss his current Deep Change Project—he’s committing to diving deep into his self, his happiness, and his relationships to see just how much change he can affect in his life in just 12 months. 

James really got me thinking about how I may want to apply myself over my next year (be sure to listen to the full conversation as he breaks down not only what he’s doing but how to turn it into a series of habits that stick and build).

As an idea started to grab hold of me—I’ll share that in a bit—I realized I did something like this (much less intentionally than James, mind you) only a few years ago, and the results of what was about a 14-month period profoundly impacted my life, my wellbeing, and my relationships. In fact, that period of time’s still impacting me and expanding in my life today. 

Let me step back and start here . . .

About four years ago, I could tell you I was stressed, that my mind was constantly on (that’s code for always racing), and that I felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day for everything that simply had to be done. (Sound familiar? Right down to rationalization?) I think the best, most encompassing word for where I was is “exhausted”—completely, thoroughly, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted

Not only is exhausted something I’m sure you can picture (and quite possibly relate to), it also holds a key piece to what was going on. To be exhausted means that everything had come out of me. There was nothing left inside. Why? Because I focused all my attention and effort on what was outside of me at that time in my life. You know the list: family, kids, parents, work, partners/colleagues, ten extra pounds, dogs that needed more exercise, cleaning out the garage, that squeaky door hinge, and . . . you get it. 

I was living life outside in—meaning my focus was all on the external: the environment, people, places, and time; and I was allowing all the externals to influence my inner life. Okay . . . I said that way too nicely. I allowed everything to control my inner life. (Ah, that’s more transparent.)

Enter: a Year of Mindfulness 

I knew it was time to get back to center. I’d explored meditation and mindfulness for years. Both would stick around for a bit until I let my life and modern chaos pull me away from my practice. 

This time I wanted things to be different.

I’ve known that when I want to make a real, concerted effort, I join a group or program of some kind. I won’t walk away from something that feels like I made a commitment, not only to myself but also to others. And so I went in search of a program of some kind that had not only what I wanted to learn, but also a community feel and a spiritual or deeper philosophical underpinning.

(Side note: I think the latest mindfulness has done wonders overall for many, many people. And I also think too much of it has separated from the foundational philosophical and spiritual understandings that it’s based on. That isn’t to say you need to become a Buddhist by any means. It’s to say there is a lot of understanding and principles that inform the practice and processes.)

I found a mindfulness meditation teacher training that had both the modern science and the deeper spiritual teachings and I enrolled. This led to another mindfulness course (on compassion, specifically), more study and meditation, and working with a teacher.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I did during my Year of Mindfulness: 

I attended weekly classes and a once-monthly, full-day retreat for four months. I meditated daily. Led meditations for others weekly. And read various books during the program. 

I wasn’t originally looking to enroll in a second course, but a different program I was looking at fell through. When this happened, I realized the mindfulness-based compassion course I’d previously considered started in just ten days. Sounded good to me!

As it was offered by the same institute as the first one, it followed a similar format of weekly classes, monthly one-day retreats, daily meditation, peer-to-peer teaching practice, and supplemental reading and study. 

I rounded out my year by beginning to work with my own mindfulness teacher about every three to four weeks, interviewing a series of mindfulness and mindfulness-related speakers and researchers for my podcast, and taking further online courses. 

All-in-all, including from my daily meditation practice, this worked out to be just about an hour a day worth of work plus the occasional one-day retreats (seven Saturdays for the year).

Trusting the Process

At the beginning of the process, I experienced some of the joy and excitement that tends to show up when you willingly enter new phases and take on new projects.  It then started to shift a bit and feel like work. 

However, just as it was shifting, we started to explore the concepts of clinging (which you can also think of as attaching) and resisting (also known as aversion), and that’s when things got real!

The proverbial light bulb switched on and I could see a whole host of patterns that were present in my life. I could see how I was attached not simply to my work but the identity and recognition that came with it.

I saw how much I clung to hold onto moments and situations that were how I wanted them to be and how quickly that attachment would turn to resistance when those moments would slip away. I’d push away the unwanted before I really saw those experiences or changes for what they really were, and I’d try to control my way back to what once was. No wonder I was exhausted!

The meditations (a lot of different meditations with different intentions and purposes) allowed me to create a new relationship to these experiences, and actually even begin to experience these situations differently before I encountered them again. 

I slowly got real honest with myself, peeling back layers of facade and protection. I reconnected to and with my heart, and found parts of myself that had been hiding for decades. I connected to peace, to genuine joy, and to compassion. These feelings and this heightened sense of awareness and empathy flourished further as I learned loving kindness meditation and then turned to compassion-focused meditations.

I started to more easily recognize shared human desires and experiences with each person in my life. I could more easily connect to each person’s desire for happiness and to be free from any dissatisfaction or discomfort. For several, more challenging relationships, it was like seeing these individuals for the very first time and yet more completely than I ever had previously. 

The Bottom Line of a Year of Mindfulness

I’m not going to tell you that everything’s now sunshine and rainbows. I have my tough days. I have my moments of stress, frustration, and anxiety, too. And yet, it’s easier to find center when I do lose connection with it—to move from my busy mind to the awareness that’s behind the thoughts—and then drop into my heart and get present to what’s really unfolding. 

Life and the constant change that it carries with it is always going to keep us on our toes. There will be twists and turns, ups and downs. Yet I know now that when you start within—when you get present to your inner life, untangle it, and honestly and authentically check in with yourself—you can then meet life wherever it is, knowing that you can bring to it the awareness, peace, joy, and freedom that exist within you. 

Oh, and about that project I’m thinking about for the coming year:

what would happen in your life if you truly allowed yourself to fully love and be loved?

This is the question I’m contemplating and I’m working on planning a year that’ll provide me insights and answers through meaningful experiences.

One way or another, I already know I’m going to love it!

To hear more from James, check out his interview on the One Idea Away Podcast!

Photo Credit: Lesly Juarez, Unsplash.com