Everything I Need to Know About Mindfulness I Learned From Dolly Parton

There are some days when I sit down to meditate and I slip right into following my breath. My spine feels light, my head feels clear, and my distracting thoughts are few and far between.

These days are rare.

Most days, my mind is babbling away. One moment I can be tuned into my breath, the next I am reliving a conversation I had with my fiancé that morning, anticipating a future event, or spinning an elaborate story about all the errands I'm going to run when I've finished practicing. I have to hand it to my mind — it really is creative. And tireless.

I have heard meditation teachers talk about greeting your own inner babblings with a cheerful indifference. The idea is that instead of getting angry at yourself, you should learn how to gently and good-naturedly disengage from your thoughts and bring your attention back to your breath. The concept is solid, but I always got hung up on the term "cheerful indifference." Did it mean I should think, "Ha ha, I'm thinking again. Who cares?" As evidence of my ability to over-think, I spent several months intermittently pondering this question.

Then the other day the old Dolly Parton song, "Here You Come Again," came blasting through the earbuds of my iPod. (Click here for the lovely Muzak version I found on a Google search.) In the song, Dolly finds herself face-to-face with an old lover who still has a hold on her. He looks into her eyes, and lies his pretty lies, and pretty soon she's wondering how she ever thought she could live without him. That rascal! He sounds an awful lot like the part of our mind that always wants to be the center of attention.

Being a wise woman, Dolly doesn't get down on herself for thinking her old flame is still sexy. She doesn't get angry or dramatic. She simply acknowledges that he can still get her all riled up, and then she walks away. ("Here you come again… shaking me up so that all I really know, is here you come again, and here I go!") Therein lies the genius. When our thinking mind starts strutting into the picture, expecting us to get distracted, all we have to do is choose not to follow along.

The next time you find your attention being pulled every which way by your thinking mind, trying singing to yourself, "Here you come again." Perhaps it can help you make a cheerful choice to stay focused on your breath. And if you'd like a little more instruction on how to meditate, below is a list of five books that I have actually read and come to love.

Simple, Clear Introductions to Meditating

Meditation Made Easy, by Lorin Roche, Ph. D.
Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield
The Force of Kindness, by Sharon Salzberg
The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Kate Hanley is a freelance writer who specializes in exploring the mind-body connection. She completed her yoga teacher training at OM Yoga in New York City and has studied with yoga experts Rodney Yee and Cyndi Lee and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg.

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