Consider the tiny raisin.
Touch it. Smell it. Listen to it. Taste it. Chew and swallow it. Do it with a mindfulness that few people ever use when approaching the shriveled grape.
Forty women explored raisins in a new way Saturday during a talk titled “Mindfulness — Making a Difference a Moment at a Time” by Dr. Janet Dietrich. It was one of many sessions at the all-day women’s conference at Rocky Mountain College.
This was the 15th year the “We Are Women — Watch Us Soar” series was put on by the Institute for Peace Studies. The conference this year was titled “Making a Difference.”
Cindy Kunz, the institute’s director, said the conference is designed to enhance women’s lives in whatever way they need. The size of the event is limited to maximize its impact.
“We realized in the second year that it’s critical to keep the conference small enough so that women can speak to the presenters,” Kunz said, and interact with each other.
Dietrich spoke three times during the day. During her first session she explained the concept of mindfulness.
In the afternoon, Dietrich walked the women through different meditation exercises, which she called formal practices for mindfulness, all ways to help people get back in touch with their bodies.
Dietrich is known to many women in the community, having worked as a gynecologist in Billings for 30 years. She decided two years ago to redirect her passion for women’s health care, first gaining a certification as an integrative health coach.
Parallel to that, she began studying mind-influenced stress reduction, for which she is working toward certification. The two areas complement and enrich each other, Dietrich told her audience.
“I think life has to be participatory, health care has to be participatory,” she said. “You are your own primary health care provider, and it begins with self-care.”
Self-care starts with self-awareness, or mindfulness, which Dietrich defined in a number of ways. It has to do with “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment without judgment as open-heartedly as possible,” she said.
“It’s training your mind to stay present to the present moment and not let it be hijacked,” she said. “If you’re not in the present moment, where are you? In the past and future.”
We tend to live in a culture that trusts minds and thoughts, but doesn’t always embrace what is learned from the senses, Dietrich said. She asked her audience to suggest some language that describes how the body feels.
“Lump in my throat,” one woman called out. “Pit of my stomach,” a second one said. “Feeling brain-dead,” a third added.
Then Dietrich projected a couple of photos on a screen, one of a busy six-way roundabout in Ireland and another of a peaceful outdoor labyrinth. She asked the women to jot down their initial reactions to each.
“This is inner-listening,” she said. “It’s not telling you what you should feel. Our experiences are quite different.”
One woman may love driving in a crowd, the more cars the better, Dietrich said. While another flees that for the solitude of nature.
To help the women learn how to get in touch with their senses, Dietrich asked them to pretend they were aliens from another planet. She instructed them to take two morsels out of the plastic red bowls being handed around.
“Watch your tendency to want to name everything, put a label on it,” Dietrich said.
Then she asked them to look at the small, brown wrinkled items with the curiosity of a child, examining them every way possible. Observe their shape, their size, their color, their texture and finally, the taste and texture.
“When you’re finished, jot down something you learned about yourself from the exercise,” Dietrich said.
She closed the first session by reading “Mindful,” a poem by Mary Oliver. It reads, in part, “Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight. That leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light. It is what I was born for — to look, listen, to lose myself inside this soft world — to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation.”