Tom Mullen

Tom Mullen

I was first introduced to yoga as a mindfulness practice, but like many people I simply used it as a workout to gain flexibility and strength. I was not really gaining any flexibility and strength as it related to dealing with stress. Sure, I would hear the teacher’s messages of “letting go”, “being present”, “drop into balance and equanimity”, but I did not know how to make use of those wise phrases when facing stressful or difficult situations. Like so many people I was not coping well with things like aging parents, career and business, and the sometimes-rocky parts of marriage and relationships. I would have intrusive thoughts and feelings of not being worthy, not good enough, not belonging. This all led to experiencing a lot of overwhelming anxiety and depression. Sure, I could balance on one foot well, but my internal experience was seldom balanced, pleasant, or stable. I spent most of my days on autopilot. I often felt on the run, angry, resentful, never caught up and had a sense that doom was always just around the corner. This was unpleasant to say the least.

Even while all these unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and sensations were occurring I still knew deep inside that the balance I was looking for existed. The little boy of my youth that was fascinated, curious, and playful was still inside me. But I did not know how to uncover that youthfulness and the joy of being human. I kept looking for some outside experience to fill the void. When that did not work, I would tend to numb out.

I began reading many books and articles about mindfulness and was learning about the benefits that meditation practice might bring. Eventually, I began a formal sitting meditation practice thinking that it might be worth it. Over the course of several months, I began to get in touch with all the activity of my mind. I was fascinated that I could be sitting comfortably in meditation and my thinking mind would simply bring up thoughts that caused things like anxiety and worry. These emotions would be expressed by the sensations I was feeling in my body. All this thinking was occurring while sitting safely in my home. I was not actually in the situations I was thinking about, but I my body was responding as if it was. I found this to be amazing and to be worth exploring on a deeper level.

I started working with various teachers and through my formal practice I not only began to notice the workings of my mind, I also realized that I need not take these mental formations so seriously. I was able to meet and challenge thoughts and emotions and “re-mind” myself that thoughts do happen, it is a natural and inherent part of the brain. But I was not required to believe all the content of my thoughts. My thoughts were different from my actions. I began to tap into the part of my consciousness that was able to observe all this activity. I would call this uncovered ability to observe as awareness itself.


Tom Mullen

I believe the ability to be aware and present exists in everyone. It is always there and available and each of us can make it part of our experience and use it to great benefit. Just like anything it does take practice. I discovered through practice that awareness was able to act as a container and hold all of my experience and make space for all that life has to offer. Over time this spaciousness became a place of comfort and possibility. There was comfort in knowing that I had a deeper capacity to be with difficulty and the possibility of meeting challenges in new and healthier ways.

I am more likely to respond and align that response with my values and needs. I have become less reactive and less likely to fall into being on autopilot. For me, mindfulness is not about getting rid of anything occurring in the moment because, after all, that is what is happening in that moment. Mindfulness has opened a pathway of relating with my experience in new ways. I have learned to be self-compassionate toward myself and have found acceptance when things do not go “my way” or when I realize my behavior is not quite up to my own expectations. This is a far less stressful way to live.

One of the most amazing benefits I have experienced through mindfulness is that there is so much to appreciate about life. When I am mindful, I am more likely to notice and find enjoyment throughout my day. My practice has brought the pleasant experiences to my attention. Many of these experiences I was missing even though they were right in front of me, and they had been there all the time. Again, this is a less stressful way to be.

Mindfulness is not about denying difficulties or giving up our ability to respond and act, but it allows one to lean into challenges, observe them for what they are, and still hold yourself with dignity, ask for help, and proceed to the best of your abilities.

All the benefits that I have experienced through my practice led me to offer this to others. After meeting pre-requisites, I attended the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher Training Intensive at the UC San Diego Center of Integrative Health. In 2020 I became a Qualified MBSR Instructor. Prior to this training I led meditation in a group setting and attended MBSR inspired retreats. I continue to work with a senior MBSR teacher to help expand my practice.

Through a well-structured program like MBSR I believe people can begin to access an inner wisdom that is always present and available. MBSR teaches the how and why of meditation. But more importantly the exercises, practices, and interaction that occur during the curriculum help you develop capacity, depth, and you will begin to know your own basic goodness, a sense of wholeness, feelings of belonging, and embrace the full experience of “being” human.

I have lived in the Vail area for 34 years. In 2020 I retired from a career in retail. I currently reside in Eagle-Vail with my wife Laurie and our black Labrador Abby. I enjoy biking, skiing, yoga, being in nature, camping, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Tom Mullen

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