Mindfulness Road Map
by Susan Sensemann

 photo by Susan Sensemann

photo by Susan Sensemann

At the Zen Life and Meditation Center we speak of mindfulness meditation as intentional awareness that is embodied and non-judgmental. 

Intentional means a course of action that is deliberate, purposeful and based on a willful decision to shift gears. Intention is the roadmap we design for ourselves to move us from being stuck in the same spot by the side of our perceived road to a new highway that moves us forward. Maybe that highway leads us home, or possibly, it leads us to adventure. Intentionality is not like requesting an Uber driver to take us somewhere as quickly as possible. Our teachers remind us that the map is of our own design. We’ve done some research and we need the discipline to sit down on the cushion and draw our map. Then we need the courage to trust our map and hit the road full throttle ahead.

Awareness doesn’t come cheap either - no easy drive-through at McMindfulness for a juicy burger.  And we won’t find True North at McMindfullness.com. Awareness requires sustained focus. Awareness necessitates the discipline to practice seeing seeing what is outside, all around, and inside of us.  Awareness is also the practice of feeling our way through terrain that we thought we knew. We have unexpected roadblocks ahead. How do we alert ourselves to danger? How do we know when to put on the brakes or to drive free on an open road with our hair blowing in the wind? How do we learn to turn on a dime? How do we discern when to slow down and smell the exquisite pleasure of salt in the air of the Jersey shore?

Embodied means being willing to ask the body, the one that carries our heads from place to place, what it has been trying so hard to tell us. Our bodies cry out to us - they hurt, they ache.  The colitis, chronic colds, knee pain, the racing heart. These bodies that we have inhabited - young and vital and full of hormonal energies, middle-aged and aching from too much work and too many demands, and old and feeling the residue of many years of heart-ache and sorrow, pleasures and joy. Can we slow down and ask our bodies to share their wisdom?

Non-judgmental means cutting ourselves some slack. Being gentle with ourselves and taking a vacation from blame, guilt and shame. It means allowing ourselves a long-deserved rest, guilt free, into feeling new states of intention, awareness and embodiment. That means sending the inner critic, in my case, a scarlet red parrot who squawks on my shoulder to a beach in Puerto Vallarta for a sustained vacation. She will drink margaritas, chit-chat with the handsome young bartender, and enjoy a well-deserved break from me, too.

This is what we mean by intentional awareness that is embodied and non-judgmental - to make the space and take the time to sit on our cushion every day and count our breath to ten on the exhale. To notice when we mentally meander down a side street and then we come back to our breath and the count. To recognize that we sit behind the wheel that we steer. To know that we are, in fact, in the driver’s seat. On our cushion.

may 2018 be an open road.

Susan Keijo Sensemann

December 2, 2017

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302