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Mind Your Breath … and Prosper

How the hot new mindfulness movement helped this writer and can give you a boost, too.

Brian Stauffer

(page 1 of 3)


The Caloosahatchee Mindfulness Center is found in a nondescript office complex in south Fort Myers, and that’s where I find myself one evening in late March, ostensibly for professional research about the emerging “mindfulness” movement but in truth for reasons more personal than that.

The sun is setting and the room lit by two tall columns of soft, diffuse light. The leader, Chris Lee Nguyen, welcomes participants to this beginner’s mindfulness meditation session and invites us to choose a floor cushion or folding chair. He explains how meditation is the gateway for achieving a more present, focused, conscious, “mindful” existence and then describes the session’s format: A brief instructional period, followed by 20 minutes of seated meditation, 10 minutes of walking meditation, and then a repeat of both. I must have shot him a look of distress because he quickly tells us not to worry; we could slip out the door halfway through.

Watch: Everyday Mindfulness for Everyday People seminar 

I am meditation’s least likely candidate. I write standing up because I get squirmy sitting down; at home, my clingy little dog makes laps around the house attempting to stay in my shadow; my family compliments me (I am not kidding) when I am still.

Anne Kracmer leads a session at Caloosahatchee Mindfulness.

My brain moves just as much. If you could listen in, you’d hear a nonstop monologue, frequently focused on the what-has-to-get-done list composed in the mornings or fretting over the what-hasn’t-gotten-done leftovers at day’s end. You’d catch me toggling among a half-dozen webpage tabs, doing choreography while doing dishes (I’m a part-time dance teacher), assessing story ideas while sorting socks.

The multitasking can be productive and useful—why not employ a little intellectual stimulation to counter housework’s drudgery? But I’ll confess: My restless mind can be self-defeating, too. It likes to wander to areas where it shouldn’t—places where worry and self-doubt and anxiety reside. It prefers the future tense, even though I’ve read enough to know that the human brain works best when functioning in the present. It distracts easily and refocuses begrudgingly.

And that’s the real reason behind my visit; everywhere lately, it seems, I am hearing the virtues of mindfulness—more happiness, better focus, less anxiety, stronger presence, greater calm—and I wanted in.

At this point, though, I don’t really understand what the term means; I don’t know if it’s merely hype; and I’m skeptical about meditation—whether it works and, more critically, whether I can stay quiet.

I sit cross-legged on a cushion. Nguyen taps a ceremonial bowl. Its vibrations reverberate through the room and fade to silence. I close my eyes.

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