Cook: Just think of it

Cook: Just think of it

December 30th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

"The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.'' - Pema Chodron

It could become the most important, meaningful and transforming place in the city.

But you wouldn't think so at first. You wouldn't ... think ... so.

It's called the Center for Mindful Living. It's a small nonprofit on McCallie Avenue, near the railroad tracks. It has a budget, but not a big one. More big-hearted volunteers than paid staff.

Yet the work being done there is powerful enough to turn your pain inside out, your sadness into peace and give you answers to the question we are all asking.

"How do I tend to my soul?" said Lisa Harrison.

Harrison is a founding member of the Center for Mindful Living, which is designed to teach you and me ways we can become more mindful.

And less angry. Less stressed. Less Chicken Little anxious.

And more peaceful. Healthy. Happy. All the things we toast for on New Year's.

"Mindfulness gives pause and allows you to come from a wider place,'' said Harrison.

Mindfulness.

It means paying attention.

To your thoughts.

Without a lot of judgment or criticism.

Kind of like cloud watching. In your mind.

"People can live more conscious lives and make better decisions for themselves and community," said Julie Brown, another board member.

We can't get to any of the places we want to go -- as individuals or as a community -- without mindfulness. We can't find peace or happiness through ignorance. No understanding or solidarity without awareness.

"In a TV culture, we are taught to be reactive," said Nora Bernhardt, another board member. "Mindfulness is the opposite of that."

The center, which opens its doors in January, is offering an eight-week introductory course (chattanooga mbsr.com) on reducing stress through mindfulness.

Besides this course, the center will offer a menu of ways to mindfulness. Walking meditation. Sand meditation. Gardens. Movie nights and discussions. Book groups. Ten minutes of lunchtime meditation. Centering prayer. Tea. Classes on nonviolent communication, prayer beads or pilgrimages.

"Come see what works for you," said Bernhardt.

Research -- and there is plenty -- has shown that mindfulness-based training is remarkable in its ability to reduce depression, anxiety, illness and road-rage reactivity.

It helps increase our quality of life. Our working memory and ability to withstand pain. It bolsters our immune system, regulates emotion, increases relationship satisfaction.

"This is about self-care," said Brown. "Just like flossing your teeth, taking vitamins, exercising and eating well."

The potential for transformation makes this center so vital. So much of our happiness and sadness originates with our thoughts, which then determine our emotions and actions.

Imagine if regular groups of school kids, police officers, business leaders, prisoners, gang members, victims of violence, doctors, politicians, the sick and dying could learn and practice mindfulness?

"Mindfulness opens me up to more of who I am. A space to open up to more of me," said Brown. "It helps me be kinder, more compassionate, more present."

Brown and fellow board members are not hippie dippies. The place is not burning with incense, fit for a Christopher Guest film. They don't use phony, fluffy, Woodstocky words. Not interested in pushing a religious -- or sacrilegious -- agenda.

They are real Chattanoogans, who began formative work on the center after meeting with dozens of other Chattanoogans just like them. With mortgages. Kids. Flat tires. Heartburn. Hopes and dreams and a desire to live life a little bit better.

With less stress. More happiness.

Just think of it.