Mindfulness has exploded in popularity, and for good reason. Although its roots date back 2,400 years ago it still has much to offer humanity in the way of presence, wisdom and connection.
In this episode of The BE ULTIMATE Podcast, Travis shares the fundamentals of mindfulness using stories, quotes, and history.
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The Be Ultimate Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]
Hey guys and welcome to episode number 20 of the Be Ultimate podcast!
This is your host Travis Eliot. And it’s a pleasure to have you back.
I just got back from an amazing retreat in Portugal. Where we had about 40 people from all around the world that came in for a week. We did yoga every morning. We did yoga in the evening. We spent many of our days just going out on excursions. We went sailing along the coast. We went sea kayaking. We went bicycling. And it was so, so amazing. And so much fun.
If you haven’t been to Portugal I highly recommend it!
After the Portugal retreat, my wife Lauren and I took a little six-day trip to Mallorca, Spain. And that was also amazing.
So I just got back into town about three days ago. And got back into the groove.
I’m excited for this episode to get into really the basics and the in and outs of mindfulness.
I actually just finished a mindfulness two-year program. And had the opportunity of studying with two of the best meditation teachers in the world. Jack Cornfield and Tara Brock. They were so amazing. And just offered so much wisdom. And both of them have decades and decades of experience.
So I wanted to use a lot of what I’ve learned. And a lot of this, these tools. And really share that with you guys.
As you know we release meditations here on the BE ULTIMATE podcast. And meditation is a big passion. And it seems like now almost every other month you see mindfulness and meditation all over the media. Front cover of Time magazine. It’s really all over the place.
So let’s unpack and explore a little bit of the basics of mindfulness 101.
Whether you’re an experienced meditator. Or whether you’re brand new. You’ve never done it before. I hope that you will walk away from this episode with some understanding and also some wisdom.
“Do you make regular visits to yourself?”
When we meditate, we’re basically making this really deep connection to ourselves. We’re blocking out our schedule. We’re stepping away from our responsibilities in the world. And we’re coming back home with our own body within our own selves.
“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage. So I sat still for three days.”
A lot of times when we think about traveling, or we think about taking a pilgrimage, we think about it on the external or the outer plane. But in the same way that we can explore the outer world, we also can explore this inner world.
There is no bigger trip than the journey of traveling inside of your own mind.
And it’s not always easy.
And I love that quote by the comedian Anne Lamott that says, “My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone.”
Because that’s sometimes how it can be. Right? You get still. You go inside. And you don’t always like what you see. Because part of the human experience is that we do have a shadow side. And there are parts of us that are imperfect.
“You are perfect just the way you are and yet there is still room for improvement.”
So really embracing the full scope of who we are as human beings. And mindfulness practice, it really begins to open us up to that type of perspective.
Mindfulness comes from the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha was around about 2,400 years ago. And he really brought this new form of meditation into the world. Because at that time you had the yogis. And you had the meditation that was practiced through the lineage of yoga. And that was different than the meditation that the Buddha brought into the world.
The Buddha, if you don’t know his story, he was this prince who had all the wealth and access and materialistic resources that one could want. But he knew within him that that wasn’t really the full answer to finding meaning in this world. And meaning in his life.
So he left his his palace. And he went on a massive journey exploring all these yoga practices of the day. And he went and studied with all these great yogis. And at times he would starve himself. And at times he would abuse his body to really try and get to the edge of what it is beyond this human experience. And ultimately what he came to find one fateful evening underneath the Bodhi tree was that it’s really about the path that’s known as the middle path. The path of moderation. And the path of balance.
And by focusing on the breath, getting the mind into a state of concentration, moving that focused awareness throughout the field of the body, he began to notice that sensations would really be defined in three different categories. A sensation could be pleasant and enjoyable. A sensation could be the opposite. It could be discomfort. Could be intense. Could be challenging. And then in between those two ends of the spectrum, sometimes sensation was neutral.
But what he observed through that focused, quiet mind was that it was always changing. And that we often have a tendency to want to hold on to the sensations that feel really good. We want to keep that. We don’t want to let it go. And so we grasp at it.
And then the sensations that are challenging, what happens is we want to push it away we want to avoid it. We don’t want to have anything to do with it.
And then the sensations that are neutral, there is boredom within that. And so what happens then is that the mind often checks out. We’re no longer present. Because we’re thinking about other things. We’re thinking about things in our past. Or we’re thinking about things in the future. But we’re not in the moment. We’re not in the now. And that’s where our life is taking place.
So the Buddha learned not to try and cling to the pleasurable sensations or experiences. And to not try and push away and avoid and resist the challenging sensations. And then in those moments of experiencing boredom or restlessness, or those neutral sensations or experiences, to still be mindful.
He had this awakening of something called Anicca. Anicca means impermanence. Everything is in a constant state of flux, flow, and change. The field of the body’s changing. The cells are changing. The breath that comes and goes. The seasons that come and go. Our life that comes and goes. Nature that comes and goes. Everything is in a constant state of change.
He realized our freedom and our awakening comes by maintaining equanimity, composure, and centeredness in the midst of all change.
When the mind becomes present, we become ONE with all things.
We become one with other human beings. We realize that what the yogi speak of as Maya– which means illusion, the veil of separateness. That veil, it dissolves away. And that on a deeper level, we’re one with each other. We’re one with the stars. We’re one with nature. And that’s the freedom. That’s the awakening.
These teachings of mindfulness, although it comes from the Buddha, it’s not necessarily a religious thing. The Buddha really went on after his big awakening and enlightenment to go and share these teachings as a way of helping other people, other humans, to transcend their suffering.
So for some people it’s a religious thing. But for many people it’s just a way of living life. It’s a practice even more than a philosophy.
In all the great spiritual traditions, they use meditation practices as a way to deepen their relationship to themselves, to each other, to nature, to God, and to the divine.
“When the animals come to us asking for our help, will we know what they are saying?
When the plants speak to us in their delicate, beautiful language, will we be able to answer them?
When the planet herself sings to us in our dreams, will we be able to wake ourselves and act?”
To become mindful is to become more AWARE and more AWAKE.
Awake to the world around us. And also awake to the world inside of us.
And what mindfulness does– it’s the perfect antidote to not staying stuck superficially on the surface of things. What happens is our experience of life begins to become deeper, more rich, more fulfilling, and more meaningful. Because we’re no longer stuck on the surface of things.
The great Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, he describes mindfulness this way: “Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and alive with the body and the mind united. Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on in the present moment. I drink water. And I know that I’m drinking water. Drinking the water is what is happening. Mindfulness brings concentration. When we drink water mindfully, we concentrate on drinking. If we are concentrated, life is deep. And we have more joy and stability. We can drive mindfully. We can cut carrots mindfully. We can shower mindfully. When we do things this way, concentration grows. When concentration grows, we gain insight into our lives.”
So a lot of times mindfulness is also known as insight meditation. Or Vipassana meditation. And Vipassana meditation is really a form of meditation that allows us to see things as they are. It allows us to see things as they really, really are.
What happens is we have all these filters. We have all this baggage that we’re carrying us through our lives. And this keeps us from really seeing things as they are. And so maybe we are meeting a new person. Or we have an awkward interaction with a stranger. And we create a story around this. “This person doesn’t like me.” Or this and that. And so we’re always experiencing very often the world through these filters.
Insight meditation, Vipassana meditation, it allows us to be able to transcend those filters. To clear the windshield of our mind. And to no longer be looking through that windshield with dust and crud all over it. But to really have a sense of true clarity.
Mindfulness strengthens our capacity to experience things as they truly are.
Not how we want them to be. Not how we think they should be. Again, not resisting it. Not pushing away. But to really be with things as they are. So now we begin to have a more direct experience with the true nature of how things are unfolding moment to moment to moment. We’re able to see things without all these noisy thoughts. And without that habitual reactive mind. So we want to have a lens we’re really able to see through the bullshit. To see through all the stuff.
Now mindfulness is not about stopping your thoughts. We know that the brain pumps out a new thought every 1.2 seconds. We’re thinking 50-60,000 thoughts a day. So there’s a big misperception that when you sit down and you meditate, that those thoughts are going to go away. And you sit down. And you’re appalled by noticing how busy and noisy and restless the mind is. And people are like, “You know what? I’m doing this wrong. I’m thinking all these thoughts. I’m supposed to be peaceful and quiet. I’m actually having the opposite experience.”
So again, remember. You want to see things as they really are. And so you may see that your mind is busy. And your mind is sometimes distracted.
And that’s okay.
There’s no such thing as a bad meditation. The important thing is that you keep showing up. And research shows, whatever happens, it’s still a powerful meditation where you experience all these great benefits.
You decrease stress and anxiety. You improve sleep. You decrease inflammation. You enhance neuroplasticity – which is your brain’s ability to rewire itself. To reform itself. And that you also improve your emotional regulation.
On the way back from my trip to Portugal and Spain, one of the books that I read was a book that I’ve been hearing a lot about for many, many years. And maybe you’ve read it. Maybe you’ve heard about it. But this book is called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.
If you’re unfamiliar, Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. And odds were one out of 25 that he would survive. And sadly, as was the case with with many people in the concentration camps at Auschwitz, his whole family was gassed and killed.
Viktor Frankl wrote this amazing piece of literature after he got released from the concentration camp. And one thing that he he found within his time of great challenge and despair and hardship was his ability to pause. Was his ability to be mindful. And ultimately he attributes this to really saving his life.
He writes, ”Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. And in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I love this quote. Because it really speaks to what mindfulness is all about.
We are moving through the world. Encountering all this stimulus. And most of us unconsciously are just reacting to those stimuli. And we’re not free. We’re a slave to habitual conditioning. And we’re a slave to these stimuli. We’re giving our power up to these things outside of us.
As we become more mindful, what happens is we begin to create a little gap between the stimulus and then how we respond.
Training in mindfulness teaches us to respond instead of react.
And the idea is that the response can come from a place deep inside of you. That place of wisdom and stillness and deep inner peace.
When you act from that place, you’re going to set a whole different chain of events than when you act from the place of reactivity.
We learn to become mindful by doing mindfulness practices. By concentrating on the breath. Or moving our attention throughout the field of the body. Or by noting these thoughts that arise in the mind. Knowing that our mind is going into an old past experience. And we’re rehashing that in our mind, seeing that. Or that we’re worried about something that is coming down the pipeline. Some meeting we got to go to. Something that’s happening within our family. Or worried about maybe a global situation. And we see that.
We see things as they really are. And we come back continuously, over and over and over again, to the present moment. This is where your life is unfolding.
There was a guy that when fought in the Middle East. And when he came back he had a lot of post-traumatic stress. And his doctor luckily directed him to enroll into a mindfulness program. And six weeks after doing these mindfulness trainings – meditating on the breath, meditating on the body – one day he found himself in a grocery store. And he was about to go into the checkout line with his three items. And right before he stepped into the check in line, this lady cut in front of him. She was holding a baby. And she had a basket full of like 16 items. And his blood started to boil. One, he got cut off. And two, this was the express lane. You’re not supposed to have more than ten items in this lane. And so he started to freak out. Because he used to function under certain rules where if you didn’t follow rules, you could get killed. Or your troops that were in your group could get killed. And so he was getting angry. His blood was boiling. His heart was beating faster. And then the lady handed the baby to the employee across the counter. And then he started freaking out even more. He’s like, “How long is this going to take? This is so disrespectful.”
And then his mindfulness practice kicked in. He started to observe all these changes that was happening in his body. Started to observe the thoughts. He started become aware of the anger swelling inside of his heart. And he paused. And he could see that. And then instead of slipping into a further downward spiral of reactivity, he chose to respond. And his heart started to settle into a more natural rhythm. His blood began to cool off a little bit. And he said, “You know what? I’m not even in a rush. What’s the big deal? I’m turning this little thing into a very big deal.” Eventually the employee handed the baby back to the the older lady. She got her items. And they left the store. And as he stepped up, he said to the employee behind the counter, he said, “That was a really cute baby.” So this guy had gone from being angry to actually noticing how precious this baby was. And the employee got tears in her eyes. And she went on to explain her husband had been killed fighting over in the Middle East. And because she no longer had the financial support of him, she had to work two jobs. She worked morning and night. And that the baby that she was holding was her child. And the only time that she got to see her child was when her mom would bring the child into the store to see her.
So we never know what’s going on with other people. And if we allow ourselves to get swept up by these stories and by these emotions, we create so much suffering for ourselves. And potentially for everybody else around us. And this story illustrates the true power of mindfulness.
Now I want to finish this episode by just going over The Four Pillars of Mindfulness.
The First pillar is the BODY and the BREATH. Again noticing these sensations that you feel in your body. And if you look closely at certain areas, you might be holding pain. Tension. You might notice temperature. Hot and cold. You may notice achy situations. You may also notice areas of the body that feel good. Feels like it’s full of energy. And it’s tingling.
And then you also can really become mindful of your breath. The beauty of the breath is that from the day you’re born to the day you die, it’s always there with you. It’s always a tool that you can access. And when you’re waiting in a line, or you’re stuck in traffic, or you’re starting to feel anxiety about something, you can come back to the breath. And when you’re inhaling, know that you’re inhaling. And when you’re exhaling, know that you’re exhaling. And you can say that breath. You can say what’s happening. And that trains the mind to come back to this present moment right now.
The second pillar of mindfulness is the THOUGHTS. We all have a waterfall of thoughts that are cascading through our mind all day long. Sometimes there’s less of a flow of thoughts. And sometimes there’s an uninterrupted flow of thoughts. But we all have that. And you can observe these thoughts. Some thoughts, they don’t have your best interest at heart. They’re negative. They may even be abusive. And if you’re entangled within those thoughts, you’re going to believe those thoughts. And you’re going to create suffering. So you get to choose which thoughts you want to engage with.
The third pillar is your FEELINGS. Your emotions. Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you angry? What’s going on within your emotional state?
The last fourth pillar, it’s really about DAILY LIVING. And daily living is, how do we function within our normal routine in our normal world. How do we function within our relationships? How do we function at our job? To be mindful not just when we sit down and we meditate on our meditation pillow. But to really bring that mindfulness into our whole scope of how we live our lives.
So the takeaway from this episode is to observe these things.
-Observe the body and the breath.
-Observe the mind, the thoughts.
-Observe the feelings, the emotions.
-And observe yourself almost like there’s a drone right above your head throughout your day, looking down upon you. And just notice, how are you moving through the world? How are you moving through your life? And just to be aware of that.
Remember, the space between the stimulus and then the response– that’s your freedom.
Without that space, you’re not free. You’re a slave. You’re a prisoner. So you want to have that space. The ability to be aware.
Now of course you can practice meditation with us on Inner Dimension TV. Use special code BE ULTIMATE.
Or you can scan through the episodes here on the BE ULTIMATE podcast. And you can do these meditations. Every few weeks we’re releasing a meditation.
The Buddha created this science and this technique for people to actually put it into action.
Hope you enjoyed episode 20 here at the BE ULTIMATE podcast.
We’ll finish with the ultimate prayer.
“May we bring strength where there is weakness.
May we bring courage where there is fear.
May we bring compassion where there is suffering.
And may we bring light where there is darkness.
May we be ultimate.”
Produced by Jason Reim
Opening Music by Howie Hersh
Closing Music by Ryan Richko