Shane Ledford at the headwaters of the Colorado River

Guest Post by Shane Ledford

Being a movie lover, I’ve noticed that numerous films have an underlying mindfulness theme. One of my (many) favorites is The Shawshank Redemption because it offers a concept that hope, determination, and friendship can help one endure within a world of suffering beyond one’s control.

Shawshank is filled with many memorable quotes, and one that I really enjoy is when Red retells Andy’s (spoiler alert!) escape from the prison (by using a small geologist’s rock hammer to chisel his way out over the period of 20 years): “Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really: Pressure and time.” Andy liberated himself by putting in the work and being persistent.

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I am frequently reminded of persistence over time when I think of the Colorado River. It is only the 5th longest river in the United States, and I have stood in its unassuming headwater stream in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. From there, the river gradually becomes larger and more powerful as it makes a journey of 1400 miles into the Gulf of California. What strikes me is, how, about 6 million years ago, this slow-to-start-its-momentum river decided to downcut a desert plateau about 400 miles away and create one of the most majestic sites in the world: the Grand Canyon. I can almost sense a human quality in the Colorado River and can imagine it thinking it wanted to create the Grand Canyon, but knew it would take pressure and time. An analogy I have used often in my teachings is: “the Grand Canyon wasn’t formed overnight.”

I look at mindfulness as practice of putting in the work (pressure) and persistence (time) as both a teacher and as a student. As a teacher, I have read about the benefits of mindfulness from research studies that have been garnered these past 10 years or so (which, is interesting, when one considers that the modern Western mindfulness movement started here in the States in the early 1970’s…so it took awhile before we decided to investigate what all the mindfulness buzz was about). Many of these studies have now documented what was generally “assumed” before: that mindfulness can help some in coping with anxiety and depression as well as examining the daily emotions that arise within our human condition.

Given that, I am still somewhat puzzled why mindfulness has not caught on even more…especially here in the Midwest. In many coastal states and cities there are countless mindful organizations, communities, and studios to participate and practice in. But, here in the Midwest, there are only a very small number. We Midwesterners have just as much unchecked emotions and stress as those living on the coasts. So why isn’t mindfulness more prevalent here?

My guess is that it will just take time to catch on here. The seeds of modern Western mindfulness were planted in Massachusetts and California… and it is just taking awhile for that flower to bloom here. Right now mindfulness here in
the Midwest is like Andy and his geologist’s hammer. It is like the modest headwaters of the Colorado River. Given time, mindfulness in the Midwest will eventually expand and metaphorically free us from our Shawshank, or create our own Grand Canyon. As a teacher, I have to have trust in this gentle pressure and time to generate effectiveness, and continue to spread the benefits and teaching of mindfulness.

I also have to be careful and not be overly-proselytizing in my passion of mindfulness and accept that not all may want to try it… regardless of its benefits. This is much like I am convinced that Mamma Mia is the greatest movie musical ever made (yes, you read that right)…but I realize not all will accept this notion (and that is okay), and, for others, it will take time for me to persuade them.

As a student I also know that mindfulness is about putting in the work and persistence. It is not a one and done thing, and takes gentle pressure and time. I would not expect myself to be able to run a marathon if I have never run any distance before… so I need to slowly chisel and downcut with small jogs around my neighborhood blocks at first.. and continue to build upon that. There have been, will be, and are days of stone-like resistance. I have to trust in the process much like Andy and the Colorado River. Some days are better than other days, and on those other days, I like to remind myself of what Dory said in the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

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