I don't teach mindfulness. Don't ever accuse me of teaching mindfulness. Here's why.

When I teach storytelling, and especially when I teach about finding stories in your life, I'm often told by students that what I'm really teaching is mindfulness.

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When I hear that word, I want to toss the person right out of my workshop. I push back immediately, rejecting any application of that word to what I do.

The last thing I want is for someone to accuse me of teaching mindfulness, for two reasons:

  1. I believe in simplicity. Easily defined, simple-to-apply strategies that offer immediate results. I break the art and craft of storytelling down into small parts and then teach those small parts in such a way that my students can begin using them almost immediately. Mindfulness is not an easy-to-define, simple-to-apply strategy. It does not produce instantaneous results. It's a large, amorphous umbrella that means different things to different people. It's a philosophy of change, and I don't like philosophy in these circumstances. Philosophy is too big. Too easily misunderstood or disregarded. Too difficult to quantify results. 

    I like small. Simple. Bite sized learning that I can model and teach easily and can be reproduced in my students flawlessly.
     
  2. Labeling my instruction as mindfulness (or "a form of mindfulness") is dangerous to my business. Say "mindfulness" and about half the people take a step forward, intrigued about what you have to say, but the other half head for the hills, and for good reason. While I don't discount the value and potential benefits of mindfulness, too many people have turned this philosophy into something unpalatable and bizarre to enormous swaths of people.

Mindfulness is kooky. Weird. Mumbo-jumbo. Touchy-feely.  

Don't believe me?

The New York Times published a piece last week on the mindful cleaning of the bathroom. 

"With the practice of mindful cleaning, you can transform this once boring activity into a nourishing and enjoyable moment to yourself."

This is not a joke. Here is what Matt Valentine, who runs Buddhaimonia.com, has to say about mindful bathroom cleaning:

Once you’ve selected your cleaning tool, take a moment to notice it with your various senses. Feel the soft texture of the sponge or hardness of the mop grip.

As you begin to clean, remind yourself that you’re cleaning to clean. You’re not chasing a result, a “clean bathroom.” Give your full presence to the act of cleaning.

Start by noticing the body. Notice as you raise your arms, move your hands, bend or step. Notice your breath as your chest rises up and down.

Now place your focus on the repetitive motion of wiping with the sponge or mopping the floor. Maintain your focus on each circular, left-to-right or up-and-down motion.

You can choose to match the cleaning motion of your hands with the rhythm of your breath. As you breathe in, wipe twice. As you breathe out, wipe three times. This helps further sync your attention with the physical activity of cleaning.

If we can be mindful while cleaning the bathroom, we can be mindful during any moment throughout our daily lives.
— Matt Valentine

I don't want any part of this. While I hope that Valentine's suggestions help people in their pursuit of mindfulness in all aspects of their lives, I find advice like this kooky. Bizarre. Ridiculous. A waste of time. 

I don't want anyone to think that what I teach has anything to do with what Matt Valentine teaches.

No thank you.

I don't teach mindfulness. I teach storytelling. Public speaking. Along the way, you may learn something about yourself. You may begin to see yourself and your life in an entirely new light. You may start to see connections between moments in your life that you never knew existed. You may come to understand your past in a way you never imagined. 

But all of this will come easily defined, simple-to-apply strategies that offer immediate results.

My "Diet Coke and aggressive attitude" didn't exactly match the yoga aesthetic, but I somehow managed to fit in anyway.

Last weekend, I performed 90 minutes of storytelling to a capacity crowd at Kripalu, a yoga and fitness center in the Berkshires. I spent the weekend at Kripalu, teaching a weekend-long storytelling workshop to about two dozen people, but the show on Saturday night was open to the general public.

The room was crowded and hot, but it went well.  

My weekend stay at Kripalu included a room, meals, and all of the amenities that the facility has to offer. I actually participated in a sunrise yoga session and spent an afternoon hiking around the lake. Despite the fact that my workshop attendees began to refer to me as a "yogi" and repeatedly assured me that my philosophies about storytelling, productivity, and mindfulness fit perfectly into the Kripalu philosophy, it didn't take me long to realize that I didn't exactly fit into the Kripalu aesthetic.

The first thing I noticed was that I walked at least three times as fast as everyone else. I was charging through the hallways like a bull on fire while everyone around me was walking slowly and contemplatively. 

When I looked at the extensive lists of breakfast options, I could not identify a single item on the menu. NOT ONE. Instead, I left the facility and enjoyed an Egg McMuffin and a Diet Coke at a nearby McDonald's.

I definitely swore more than anyone around me, and I am not a person who typically curses with any regularity. However, no one spoke a single swear word in my presence for the entire weekend, but in the course of my performance and my teaching, I swore a lot by comparison. During my performance, I fired off an expletive in the general direction of a couple people in the audience, causing Elysha to shake her head and offer me a disapproving stare.    

Silent breakfast was impossible for me. It turns out that I make noise even when I'm not speaking. I sigh loudly. Hum. Laugh to myself. Tap my feet. Pound on my keyboard. Audibly scoff. Constantly. 

Also, the concept of silent breakfast struck me as fairly insane. 

But the clincher came at the end of my performance on Saturday night. When the lights came up, a long line of people approached to chat. One woman began to ask if the stories I had told were really true but stopped short, noticing the scars on my face and quickly realizing that the story about my car accident (and therefore the rest of the stories) were true. She traced the scar on my chin with her index finger and said, "You lovely man."

This is something that could only be said about me at a place like Kripalu.

Another woman approached and said, "I wasn't sure if I wanted to come for tonight's show. but you walked into the room carrying a Diet Coke, a McDonald's bag, and an aggressive attitude. These are all things we have never seen before at Kripalu, so I knew it was going to be good."

It was odd to be in a place that seemed so right for me and so wrong for me at the same time.

It's true that the teaching I do as it relates to finding stories in our lives, exploring their meaning, and bringing that meaning to bare in a performance aligns almost perfectly with the recent mindfulness movement (though the word "mindfulness" is kind of stupid and the movement tends to lack the kind of specific, highly targeted, easy-to-follow strategies that I teach). Though I didn't initially believe it, it's true that the philosophies espoused at a place like Kripalu align quite well to my own.  

But at the same time, it's also true that I am happiest and most relaxed when I am doing something. Moving forward. Making progress. Affecting change. Eating a cheeseburger. Hitting a golf ball. Shoving an opponent under the basket. Tickling my kids. Hitting on my wife.  

The quiet, contemplative, farm-to-table, macrobiotic existence is not for me. That level of quiet and thought, absence movement and action, makes me crazy.  

At least for now.