During the past spring semester at Yale, I took a class (not through the university) about meditation and mindfulness, and how to incorporate both into one’s life. We met each Friday night for two hours in a small, carpeted room, with a single drafty window looking out to the concrete parking garage of the hospital across the street. There were about ten of us, I the youngest by at least twenty years, and the classes were a blend of basic yoga, guided meditation, and discussing what exactly this mindfulness stuff was all about.
Each week we were given a different assignment: an activity in our lives to do mindfully, and a twenty to thirty minute guided meditation to do each day that week. When we gathered again that Friday we would discuss our issues or triumphs with committing to the daily practice, or the positive effects we were reaping from it, or questions that had been lingering in our minds.
When I started the class, I had been having trouble falling asleep. Each night it would feel as though my heart was getting pumped full of adrenaline the moment I crawled into bed, and of course thinking about the adrenaline in my heart only made me even more keyed up. It was my first time ever feeling stressed for no reason at all, which was not the way I wanted to feel. It was inescapable in that my busy life at school kept going and I had no idea what to do to end the stress.
The effects of the mindfulness class were cumulative, not immediate, and they went further than just helping me sleep or reducing stress; my whole mindset began to shift. I learned to accept and appreciate where I was in that moment, and to stay in the now instead of in the future. It affected everything from not stressing about missing a connecting flight during spring break to even being a little more kind to myself by focusing on the person I was in each moment, not what I wanted to change.
As the semester came to an end, I knew I didn’t want to lose what I had built for myself, and throughout the summer I’ve been trying to fit in those twenty minutes every day. At first, I would still use class recordings I had as guidance for my meditation; I still felt I needed it to keep me focused and anchor my thoughts.
But then I came to the inn, only a few minutes’ walk to one of the most incredible coasts in the world. The crash and flow of waves providing the soundtrack for my meditation? Not something I was about to pass up. I quickly found a couple of spots to make my own: the lookout point on the cliffs across the street, and a nice wooden log at the Catch a Canoe dock, which is usually vacated by dinnertime. And since I wasn’t about to lug my laptop to either of these spots, that meant I was without my guided recordings to meditate.
The other day I had a particularly wonderful and unique meditation by guiding myself through one of my favorite recordings that involves mountain imagery, which is what inspired me to write this post: I am sitting on my log at Catch a Canoe around 7 pm one evening, early enough for the sun to still be out but late enough for me to have the place to myself. I place my feet flat on the ground, and my palms and fingers rest on my thighs. I first hear birds, in front of me, to my left, behind me. Ravens caw-caw-cawing, beachy seagulls e e e-ing, and everything in between. Cars whoosh in and out of my ears as they cross the nearby bridge; wind howls around my body. Children splash and shriek on the river’s shore. I imagine each sound as its own parabola on a graph, coming and going in and out of my ears.
Next I turn to physical sensation. I feel the solidity of my feet flat on the ground (a peacefully secure feeling if you focus on it), wisps of my hair escaping from behind my ear to tickle my cheek, the sun still warm on the left side of my body. I think of my face and the furrow between my eyebrows releases, and then I move to focus on my breath: the expansion and deflation of my stomach; the air flowing through my nostrils; the sounds of my inhalation and exhalation.
And then, as we did in the class, I imagine that I am a mountain: strong, majestic, blue-tinted and white-capped. My breath gives life to all around me, and I imagine a desert and fields of grain and then forests surrounding me. As thoughts arise I let them pass by me with the clouds, and I repeat one word over and over: clarity. As the clouds clear along with my thoughts, I imagine myself breathing into the radiant blue of a cloudless sky. But here’s the curious bit: when I started meditating here, in Mendocino and at the inn, my picture changed. No longer did I place myself as a mountain surrounded by flat desert and forest, but I saw a Redwood-covered peak in a series of hills and valleys. A stream flowed below me, and birds flew in and out of the picture.
One of the wonderful aspects of Mendocino and the Stanford Inn is how it helps me to stay in the moment, much like being mindful. A few weeks ago at the Comptche BBQ, I was astounded that no one was scrolling through their phones, mostly due to the utter lack of cell service. Similarly, the port for the charger on my phone has gotten enough gunk in it to where I can barely get the charger to connect. In New Haven, the Apple Store is a mere two blocks away; here, it’s a rather intense (but beautiful) two-hour trek to Santa Rosa, meaning that if my phone breaks I’m stuck for a little while. And the people who live here care about this place. Whether it be getting the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands designated as a national monument, or a bypass currently under construction in Willits, the people who live here know they have the power to affect what happens to their home, and they utilize it. In my experience, people here are generally more aware of where they are in each moment, and they embrace it.
As much as I love the East Coast, I’m definitely going to miss the more laid back vibe I get here. But, of course, just because I leave California in a few weeks doesn’t mean I can’t bring the take-it-as-it-comes perspective with me.
This article was written by monica