This week, we spoke to meditation expert Jennifer Moulaison to learn about mindfulness, gardening as meditation, and the effects of nature on the spirit.
Jennifer was born and raised in New York and spent 26 stress-filled years in the finance and operations before discovering meditation. Her journey through mindfulness gives her unique insights on appreciating the here-and-now and developing a meaningful mind-body connection. She is currently working to open up a meditation studio in the Dallas area, which will open mid to late December.
Why did you start meditating?
Basically, I came from New York. I was a very busy person. I worked for Chanel in corporate for almost 16 years. I was always in the world of finance just around, always driving for something. — and if I ever sat still, I felt guilty. Back in New York, meditation is everywhere. It was one of those things that I knew I needed to do, but I couldn’t actually sit down.
So then I moved to Dallas for a quieter lifestyle. But I stayed in my world of luxury retail, and I hit the ground running again. There was a meditation studio here in Dallas. The first time I went, a friend actually took me — it was like pulling teeth to get me there, but I went. I remember thinking that it was lovely. It was quiet, it was peaceful, it was nice…but at the same time, I was irritated by the noises of the person next to me, I couldn’t sit still, I felt like I was wasting time…I didn’t understand it.
A couple of months later, I had an opportunity to take a year off of work. So I decided to meditate daily. Mostly it became part of my new routine, and because I’m a type A person, I educated myself to the nth degree. I took all the workshops, I took a 300-hour teaching training class, I did all the research.
Eventually, I was doing it twice a day every day by myself. It’s like going to the gym one day— you’re not going to see results. You have to go consistently, so your body changes. Your mind develops like your body does and things started changing.
What pushed you to start meditating?
I thought you could change the person by changing the environment, but that’s not true. Even though I moved to Dallas for a quieter lifestyle, I was the same person in Dallas as I was in New York. When I had the chance to reevaluate, I decided to actually focus on myself and self-care.
At the time, I had a lot of stress and anxiety and was never able to rest. Physical manifestations of my stress were appearing. I just didn’t feel good. Physically, I was fine, so I knew there were mental causes. I was the person who took 1-2 sleeping pills a night for 15 years. Fast forward, I don’t have to take anything, and I sleep like a baby.
If I can be changed by meditation, anyone can be. Because I’m a very typical New Yorker— very high strung, type A person. I’m still the same person now (I’m still very productive), but I just react differently. I appreciate things more.
When did you start seeing changes?
One time, after I had been meditating for about 6 months, I was driving somewhere in Highland Park along a route I had taken a thousand times. All of a sudden, I was like “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! The trees are so beautiful — they’re yellow and they’re red. Something has changed in the weather pattern this year.” So I go home and I call my friend to tell her this unbelievable news.
I explain this whole thing and the friend stopped me and goes, “Jen, this happens every year.” …I had been in Dallas for six years, and I never knew the leaves changed colors. I finally was paying attention to what was going on around me. That’s what it means to start getting into the present moment, where you are, and what you’re doing. You start to realize and see things in a very different way.
That was like an “Oh my god, it’s working” moment for me.
In gardening, for example, you can see a specific result. You can see that a plant is growing. But there are so many other benefits of gardening in connecting with nature, understanding the process, sensorily experiencing it all, appreciating the beauty — all those different mind-body connections — that come slower and are harder to identify.
What do you mean by the mind-body connection?
If you’re connected with your mind and body, you’re connected to a certain harmony. Any practice you do when you’re hyper-focused on connecting your mind and body, you will get into a flow. Today, we’ve gotten so distracted that we’ve lost that harmony — and that’s when people get stressed and anxious.
For example, in spending 2 hours gardening or being with nature, you’re behind the scenes creating this harmony that our bodies and minds strive for.
Going into nature can swing the pendulum back away from the crazy world of technology and stress.
In the end, you want this connection to become a lifestyle. Once you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve established a practice and a way of how you live your life, you can kind of do what you need. You don’t need to formally go somewhere because you’re living your life in a way that’s more mindful.
You’re currently opening a meditation studio, correct?
We’re opening a studio in the Dallas area to start. It’s going to have many things —mostly around meditation, but it will have a few other modalities to teach people to center themselves and be still and connect differently to themselves and others through different practices.
Our studio is going to be called Breathe. We want to incorporate plants in there because of the breath exchange between us and plants. Plus, gardening is an informal way of practicing meditation, and so it really sits well with us from a logical and aesthetic standpoint.
In addition to classes, we would really hone in on some of these informal meditation tasks that people could do — including gardening. People want to go back to things that are simple. They want to go back to sharing experience with somebody. Turn off your phone, your TV, the music, and appreciate what you’re doing.
What is it that pushes you to open this studio?
I’ve always been a hyper-driven career person, and it always came first. But although I worked in retail, I’ve never been a retail person. What I realized is that I like helping people. Anybody I work for, rest assured, I’ll be your go-to person. I like to help people be able to do what they want to do.
I realized that it’s always been a part of my nature to help people. A meditation studio will be interesting because I really have liked it, I’ve seen a huge change for myself, and I can help someone get to this same place of peace.
Can you speak more on gardening as a form of meditation?
A lot of meditation is done outside, especially mindfulness meditation — which is practiced more in the West and it’s a form of meditation where you pay attention to something at the present moment. Many people go outside to meditate just to stare at a tree for an hour. Just to appreciate it and look at it. If you’re gardening thoughtfully, whether you’re touching the plant or touching the soil, you’re practicing a form of mindfulness meditation.
It’s something I want to try out. I have a yard and I plant things, but I’ve never really looked at gardening in this way. Because I’m in such a different head space now, A. plant’s not dying on my watch and B. I can do something in a way that is focused and involved and appreciative in a way I couldn’t before.
What is the relationship between nature and mindfulness/spirituality, and how have you experienced that in your journey?
Human beings have a frequency — we are made up of more energy than we are solid mass. All living things on this world have a frequency So there’s a connection. What I’ve learned is that grounding was very important. A lot of people who have stress or anxiety can’t get grounded. And the way to get grounded is to go stand barefoot on the ground — just being a part of the earth. It naturally grounds you. Even just having a houseplant…It’s a living thing you care for.
I spend a lot of time outside here. It’s amazing how trees grow away from each other to give each other room to grow or how some flowers shrivel up during the day to protect themselves from the sun and blossom at night. The fact that I’m even having this conversation with you is showing that nature is doing something because I’m so much more connected things in this universe other than myself.
My whole key of this all is almost bringing things back to a simpler way. We need to get back to a stable level — a homeostasis state. Going into nature can swing the pendulum back away from the crazy world of technology and stress. When you appreciate nature, you begin to understand it. And in any case, you really can’t live without it.