“All this happened in only a few seconds on an evening that seemed like it was going to be like most other evenings.”

My personal mindfulness practice began to take shape in 2007, when I spent a month at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health for its 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Intensive. Although I didn’t know the word mindfulness then, I was learning it every day in our yoga classes. Kripalu teaches that as you practice a yoga posture you: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow. In our daily yoga training, the Kripalu teachers consistently and kindly encouraged us to look inward, into the sensations of the body and the activity of the mind, and to non-judgmentally observe what was there. They were teaching us mindfulness.

For me this was a totally new way of self-observation, and through this intentional, non-judgmental observation something unexpected happened. One night after the formal training day was over–not a “once-upon-a-time-night”–a real night I’ll never forget, a cruel self-judgment, a thought I’d had many times about myself, began to overtake me. I felt the sadness that this thought always brought with it, the self-doubt and hopelessness rising, but something shifted, and for the first time the mindfulness “woke up” outside of yoga class and saw this internal storm building.

And for the first time, instead of being swept away in the storm; instead of fighting with the storm and trying convince myself it wasn’t true; instead of trying to ignore the storm or going to get something to eat to take my mind off of it, I just stopped. Because I suddenly realized I could. And I Breathed. And tried to Relax. And Felt. And Watched. and Allowed the storm to be there.  And for the first time I was openly curious about the storm and the part of myself that felt hurt by it.

Strong compassion arose in that observation, compassion you might feel for a small child who is hurt, but this wonderful compassion was for me. Unexpectedly and beautifully for me. The tears came, but they were different than they’d ever been. They were tears of compassion for the person who had suffered for so many years being lost in one storm after another.

All this happened in only a few seconds on an evening that seemed like it was going to be like most other evenings. Every moment holds the potential for mindfulness. That evening at Kripalu, in only a few seconds, my awareness had unexpectedly turned from a painful storm to a clearer seeing and salf-compassion that I would never have thought possible or even important. Those few seconds and the compassion they showed me was possible remain some of the most important moments of my life.

Within that compassion was an acknowledgment of the suffering I’d felt for so long being lost in my storms, a desire to be free from this suffering, and the realization that from moment to moment this freedom is possible.