by Angela Martin
I walk out onto the balcony of our hotel room that overlooks Sarasota Bay.
I am so grateful to be here, I tell myself as I sit down on a grey aluminum chair and set my computer on the small circular table in front of me. Resting both feet on the cement floor, I press the start arrow on my body scan audio, part of the homework from my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course I’m taking at Copper Beech Institute this fall.
It’s more lifework than homework, really.
There are so many sounds I’m aware of as I begin. The rush of traffic on a nearby highway, the wind blowing so hard it nearly obscures the voice of my instructor, the voices and laughter of people below going in and out of the hotel. But I sit, bringing my attention to the bottom of my left foot, as the instructor guides me to, and from there to the toes of my left foot: the big toe, the second toe, the third and fourth toes, and then the baby toe.
In time, my mind wanders to Ryan, our oldest son, who we are visiting here for family weekend at Ringling College of Art and Design. He is busy this weekend; we won’t see him as much as we would like. I picture his smile and his auburn beard when I bring my attention back to my left knee, where the body scan now directs me. I don’t judge myself for going off task. I’m learning that this is the nature of the busy mind.
This is a practice. No judgment.
In a decade-long writing project with my best friend Noelle, we learned about the beauty of imperfection – that we all are perfectly imperfect. But I still fall off the wagon all the time, looking back and wishing I had done a better job in some aspect of my work, my mothering, or my relationships. And here again with MBSR, I’m learning that there is nothing better than simply being who I am.
And knowing I am enough.
We are now moving from the left hip to the right. I’m feeling rooted here in the chair, following the guidance within. But just as quickly my awareness moves into the distance, when I hear someone signing lyrics from John Denver’s ballad, “Annie’s Song.”
“You fill up my senses like a night in the forest…”
And I journey back to my childhood. My parents used to play John Denver’s Greatest Hits album often and this is still one of my favorite songs from it. My eyes begin to well up, listening to the words as if for the first time. I am keenly aware of the passage of time.
I don’t want to miss out on my life, I vow as I have countless times since I began my mindfulness practice, and shift attention to my left knee.
I continue with the scan and move into my chest, a place in the scan where I often fall asleep when I’m lying down at home – part of the reason I’m sitting up today. I have asthma and this is a place I want to pay attention to. I want to see what’s here now. We get to the middle back area when I hear our neighbor on her balcony, “Ah, look at the beautiful bride. Her life ends today – and a new one begins.”
I had to open my eyes. There below was a black stretch limo and a bride taking a few photos before stepping into her car. I think back 25 years to my own wedding day – a day that seems so far off and so near all at once.
Your love will grow more than you can even imagine, I whisper to her.
I sit back down and pick up with the body scan, which has already moved to the head. I have missed the arms and the neck.
It’s okay, not a worry, I tell myself and bring awareness to the base of the head and jaw where I carry so much of my stress. Headaches have been a problem for me too over the past few months. I connect how unhealthy it is for me to have these physical reactions to life.
This is such a good way to care for myself.
The scan closes with the instructor suggesting a note of self-gratitude for making the time for practice. She closes her guidance by asking us to breathe through the whole body in awareness and appreciation of what it is to be alive.
Three bells chime and I open my eyes – the world so vibrant and clear.
And I am so grateful to be here now – after a perfectly, imperfect body scan, interruptions and all.
Angela Martin is a writer, author, and director of marketing communications at Copper Beech Institute. She writes about the power of friendship and compassion – and her new mindfulness journey as an empty nester. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 retreats, courses, and events to foster peace and resilience in everyday life, including 8-Week MBSR Courses, as well as an Introduction to MBSR Overnight Retreat.