Libby Parker, Administrative Coordinator in the Faculty of Law at McGill University shares her experience with mindfulness.
Libby has been working at McGill for over nineteen years. A member of McGill’s Wellness-Centered Learning Community Libby has shared her passion for meditation and wellness within the Faculty of Law for many years. Examples include leading the incoming first year class in a short meditation session during their orientation day in Moot Court and creating 'Mindful Mondays' - a lunch time mindfulness session for her colleagues to raise money for Centraide.
We asked Libby a few questions about her experience with mindfulness and the impact it has had in her life.
What is mindfulness to you?
In the deepest sense of the word, mindfulness is a process of coming home to oneself. As a discipline, it offers numerous simple but powerful techniques that gently lead our attention inward and away from the demanding and often stressful external circumstances that we face in our daily lives. In doing so, it invites us to become aware of how we are experiencing life at any given moment. This is a simple but profound shift. We often tend to cling to the whims of constantly changing outer pressures and stimuli. But through learning how to pause to reflect on how we are feeling at any present moment (how our body is feeling, noticing how our breath is moving), we gain greater clarity on how the choices we make are affecting our lives. This is a powerful process, one that over time can lead to a greater sense of living authentically, making healthier choices and embodying a way of life that is in line with what is most important to us.
How and when did you get started with Mindfulness?
I have been a student of meditation for over thirty years. Introduced by my aunt while I was in my teens, I immediately experienced the benefits and felt I had discovered a lifelong friend. Meditation has been a constant comfort in my life – a lifeline connecting me to myself during both challenging times and times of great richness and personal growth. I was so taken with my early experience of meditation that I continued to study in the field of self-awareness, exploring techniques from psychotherapy and mindfulness so that I could share the growth I was experiencing with others.
Because I have been practicing mindful presence for many years, the self-awareness it offers has become a natural part of me. As soon as I think about tuning into myself, I am already there, in a place of reflective relaxation that feels like returning home. During the times when circumstances are particularly challenging or upsetting and I am not able to calm myself by simply tuning in, I begin a mindful technique; in that moment, the circumstances may not change but my thinking about them does. There is less worry, less regret, and more acceptance of what is, without all the mental chatter that accompanies our daily concerns. I do want to emphasize that the key here is that this process is not about meditating away problems, and pretending everything is fine. It is about building the skill of discerning how we actually feel in any given moment and noticing - and becoming more conscious of - how we are living our existence moment to moment.
Here is an example from my personal life that ended up enhancing my work life: Several years ago, I made the decision to walk more. I have always loved walking and began to walk to work each morning in all types of weather, making sure my walk was a mindful practice. I surrender my attention to my surroundings as I walk. I love nature, so looking at the sky, the trees and the signs of changing seasons has really improved my quality of life and I attribute this not just to the walking, but to walking mindfully. I arrive at work inspired to begin my day.
What kind of changes did you notice when you started practicing?
Mindfulness is an empowering process: by choosing to be mindful, I actively direct my attention. I focus on what I know - what it is that I am actually experiencing: I am not thinking about sitting in the chair, I am noticing how it feels to sit in the chair; I am not worrying about being overwhelmed, I am noticing how being overwhelmed feels in the present - my shoulders are tense, my breath is shallow, my thoughts are all over the place etc. What is interesting and empowering about this process is that those things we are mindful of (high shoulders, shallow breath) – we can usually change. We can get up and stretch, drink a glass of water, do one task at a time, then tune in and feel better the next time we check in with ourselves. We do have the power to increase our sense of well-being. The benefits are endless.
I want to mention one final thing: the hidden gift of mindfulness is gratitude. I have found that when I make the shift from outward busyness to inner awareness, it simply feels good, and what immediately comes on the heels of that sense of well-being is gratitude. Not a bad list of benefits from simply just being yourself.