Mike Raymond

When I turned 50, I decided to take some yoga classes to maintain my flexibility and balance and maybe relieve some of the stress that I was feeling from life in general. As I practiced yoga (which is a form of mindfulness) I began to feel better physically but I also noticed a quiet sense that came over me while I was on the yoga mat. For a large part of the hour-plus class I was truly present in the room moving from pose to pose living in the moment with no distraction from outside thoughts. Yoga became a refuge where I could plug into the now and let the world wait for at least an hour.

Yoga practice became a regular part of my life and I felt better on the whole, but there was still a fair amount of stress that I was feeling, perhaps the yoga that was allowing me to quite my mind was also allowing deeper thoughts and emotions to arise. I was not sure what was happening, however, there was a curiosity developing. I saw an article on Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that was offered at the UMASS Medical School Center for Mindfulness. After reading up on the 8-week class I decided to attend in April of 2016.

I drove to Shrewsbury, Ma. on a Thursday night pulled into the parking lot of the Center for Mindfulness and said to myself, “what are you getting yourself into”. I walked in, filled out the forms and listened to the presentation on the MBSR program during the orientation. The more I listened the more I felt this was the place for me to be. There were no promises and the mindful practice to be done was on me to do with intention and sincerity, it seemed like if I put the work in there was a possibility that I could relieve the stress and anxiety and the loss of who I really was could be regained. I signed up for the class and drove home with a bit of hope that a change could be made.

During the 8-week class that required 45 minutes of daily meditation 6 days out of 7 along with other homework I slowly began to feel “something”. I was learning to slow down to observe, allow and ask myself questions before reacting quickly, often making the situation worse. This led to confidence and clarity which made me happy and I was noticing it all in the present moment. During week 4, in a group discussion of what was happening for us in that moment, I was able to share how I felt and expressed that even though I was trying so very hard to make everything just right for my family, this effort only tightened the knot of my frustration and the need to have things in such a way was causing the stress and anxiety. The meditation seemed to be helping me realize this situation and the knots of frustration and need for things to be just so were being loosened and I was feeling a lightness and joy that I had not felt for many years, back to when I was a young adult and things seemed much simpler.

By the end of the 8-week class I knew I wanted to learn more about mindful meditation, so I went to a retreat center and did a 7 day silent retreat. I was nervous about going, but I was curious to see if I could continue to develop this skill called mindfulness. The retreat was challenging but rewarding and at that point, I decided to enter into the MBSR teacher track at the UMASS Center for Mindfulness so that I could teach MBSR to those individuals who were interested. Over the past two years, I attended the 8 week MBSR Fundamentals course, a second 5 day silent retreat, the 9 day Practice Teaching Intensive (PTI) to become a “Qualified MBSR Teacher” and Group Supervision.

Mindfulness practice has changed the way I approach my life. Some of the changes are small like making my bed every morning, not biting my nails and reducing my TV watching. Other changes I have noticed are becoming being more patient, less judgmental of others, less reactive, more open and understanding, making better decisions and being more present in the moment.  I now realize when I’m lost in thought ruminating over actions in the past or projecting to events in the future. I now notice this and return to the present of what is happening right now! In general, I truly try to experience what’s happening in the present moment, the good, the bad, all of it. I have learned that the lows are not so low when you experience the actual event without the hype of the mind creating situations that may never happen. I also know that the highs in life don’t last forever and that’s okay. Even after they’re gone, when the good times I crave end, I bring myself back to the present moment and deal with what is happening in the now.

I sincerely hope to bring the awareness and balance of Mindfulness to anyone who feels it will help them live a more productive and peaceful life. When we take the time to give ourselves the attention we deserve through mindful practice we are more effective at serving others, including family, friends and co-workers who then, in turn, pass on this basic goodness and hopefully, in the end, we are all better for it.

I look forward to working with you on your journey.

Mike