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Mindfulness.




So cool. I couldn’t believe I was there. The man was giving me an orientation about how other students used this and I was eagerly listening, focusing on the reason I was there. Then he said something about a student having done this and his grades improved dramatically. Physics! I thought. Yes! (An edge? No. For me - survival.)


But I was there for crew. So when he told me it was time, I climbed into the "Egg Chair," this futuristic, Mork & Mindy-esque fiberglass chair. I put on my headphones, pressed “play” on the cassette tape and began to hear a voice talking me through the process of putting the shell in the water, climbing in, pushing away from the dock, paddling out, warming up, approaching the starting line…


I was caught up in the novelty of getting to experience the beginning of the Center for Enhanced Performance at West Point. As I recall, the idea behind the Egg Chair was to remove distractions and learn to visualize performance. 30 years ago, the understanding of the mind-body connection wasn’t new, but it certainly wasn’t as commonly discussed as it is now. This was my introduction to the pioneering science and performance protocols behind it.


I listened to the recording and, when finished, was sent back to my room with a tape I could play on my own to practice. I probably played it a few more times. I’m not sure how much it helped with rowing. (Sadly, it didn’t help me in physics.) But I didn’t keep up with it.


I now know that was a missed opportunity. My mind felt frantic most of the time back then. I had trouble concentrating when studying and I was always worrying about something I hadn’t gotten done. The only time I ever had mental focus was when I was on the water, staring at the vertex of the “A” of the rower in front of me, knowing that indulging a distraction by looking around could throw off the set of the entire boat. My team kept me honest and focused.


That level of focus would have helped me in so many other ways as a cadet and the years beyond. But I was so busy, I reasoned. That stillness stuff wasn’t for me.


It would be more than two decades before I gave another mindfulness strategy a try: meditation. I wasn’t looking for it. On the contrary, I had to do it for a grad school class. Just as when I was a cadet, my mind was so busy, I immediately dismissed it as not for me. I argued about how I should be able to learn it while exercising. I often fell asleep while practicing. I thought it was a waste of my time.


I was not the ideal student.


But I kept up with it this time. Then one day, about a year in, I got some rock-my-world news. Later people asked me why I didn’t react like they assumed I would. People asked me why I was different, what had changed. Only in reflection did I realize that I had changed and why. People began to ask if I would help them.


I still practice on most days. I schedule it like I do exercise. I don’t have to be rigid about location or distractions anymore, as that’s part of the positive changes in my brain. It helps me find clarity. It helps me with focus. It helps me in physical performance. It helps me connect with others. It serves as a safety valve when I need a quick pressure release. And so much more.


I’ve since accompanied hundreds of people as they’ve learned to meditate. I’ve probably experienced or heard most of the issues out there. If you’re curious about exploring it, please let me know. If there’s enough interest, I’d love to run an 8-week group training.


There are many ways to bring your mind and actions into alignment to be your optimal self in whatever circumstance. It’s pretty amazing that we’re in a time in which modern neuroscience is able to show why these ancient practices work. 30 years ago I missed my first chance. Thankfully it’s never too late.

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