It is a Saturday halfway through January. Wet snow falls from a cold gray sky. The paddocks are muddy—empty.
So is my house. The Christmas tree is back to the attic, my adult children are back to their cities and lives, and my husband is back on the Peloton, air pods in, working towards his daily streak of maybe eternity.
I have cleaned out drawers, culled through the closets, consolidated boxes from the many moves in and out of dorm rooms and apartments of late. Yesterday I went to the grocery, so that’s done. And now—there is nothing more to do. I feel a little anxious.
“You are neurotic, mom.” This was a post-holiday parting dinner statement. “Neurotic? I don’t think so, not really,” I laughed “Quirky, maybe.” “You ARE!” She insisted. “I mean you never slow down. You NEVER relax!” “How do you define relaxation?” Dan interjected. “I don’t know,” she replied, “Being still, breathing, being present, being MINDFUL.”
Ah, yes. If COVID is the word of the year 2020, then MINDFULNESS is the word of the decade. And in this COVID, political, brain fart of a year where most of us have sore arms trying to wave ourselves out of Bizarro World, word usage of “mindfulness” has skyrocketed. See here:
No doubt “becoming more mindful” is on many new year’s resolution lists. I love the word, “mindfulness.” When I think it or say it, it makes me feel better, like a better person even, more thoughtful, current, chill, accepting— yes, mindful. I am mindful.
Wait. Am I? Are you?
- the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.“their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
- a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
A history of mindfulness attributes Eastern religious traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism for strongly influencing Western traditions like yoga and contemplative meditation. Mindfulness, the modern iteration, is integrally connected to these practices. Conventional wisdom has it that If you practice yoga and/or meditation, you will become more mindful which means a happier outlook and a healthier life.
Yoga has been around for centuries, yet its popularity in western culture started in the 1930s, circled back in the 1960s and has boomed in the last five years. Currently, there are 6,000 yoga studios in the US with about 36 million active yogis practicing yoga and spending roughly $16 billion on yoga classes and their accouterments.
Ready for another mind-blowing number? Since 2015, 2,500 mobile meditation apps have been launched. People want mindfulness.
I just deleted the meditation app off my apple watch because it made me nervous. So bossy. Every hour it interrupted to tell me to breathe. “YOU BREATHE!” I said, and then I killed it.
To be clear, before the meditators and yogis leave mad, I am not going to mess with your Zen. I fully recognize and appreciate your mindfulness training. My practice just looks a little different than yours.
Do you remember hearing about Biofeedback? Born in 1969 and a hot commodity until dwarfed by the yoga and meditation app industry, Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that uses mental exercises like meditation with visual imagery to help reduce stress and improve general and specific health conditions. The patient hooks up to a little machine with electrodes that monitor physical responses to the exercises.
A typical Biofeedback patient might visualize lying on a beach, waves lapping gently, a light breeze cooling tiny beads of sweat, the sun wrapped around you like a warm tortilla.
In my biofeedback moment, I am standing on a ladder with a fresh brush, a tray of paint securely fastened, and I am edging the top of the living room. Lyle Lovett radio plays in the background. The clock ticks away, one hour, two hours, three…finally, I’m hungry so I stop.
Other biofeedback moments are as listed but not limited to: leaf blowing, floor laying, gutter cleaning, pressuring washing, building anything with an Allen wrench, taking a long hike, and writing without a deadline.
Before you jump to conclusions about neurosis or diagnose a bad case of OCD, I would like for you to take a deep Ujjayi breath and notice…
Each of the tasks I’ve listed requires focus and awareness of the present moment. When I paint a wall, there is a beginning, middle, and end. During the exercise, I do only that task; there is nothing to accompany or interrupt. I don’t look at my phone, open another window on my computer, or wash clothes while cooking dinner. I don’t think about what’s behind me or what’s next unless I need more paint. And yes, I breathe in circular, rhythmic motion—whilst inhaling toxic fumes—and my mind is clear.
My personal ZEN is to single-task on something that requires detailed focus.
What about yoga? Even Sukhasana hurts—the first pose when you just sit there crossed-legged. Everything hurts. I can’t breathe because it hurts, or because I anticipate more hurting. I know, I know, it is a practice, personal to me, I’ll get more out of it the more I do it…Still, I would rather paint.
Meditation? This is going to sound ironic, but I meditate better when I have something to take my mind off of the fact that I am trying to meditate. Meditation is so much pressure! I meditate when I hike, blow leaves, or write a blog like this one. Otherwise, stillness becomes riddled with what’s next and trying to be quiet feels like a burden rather than a perk of the job.
That’s a lot about me to get to a point about everyone—a point that yoga so beautifully makes. We walk our paths to mindful relaxation. Some people read while others watch football. Fish, surf, or surf the internet. Binge Netflix on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Work in your garden. Detail your tiny model train. The one thing that all practices have in common, that you must do to achieve mindful relaxation–you must quiet your mind.
I read an article that said, “We spend between a third and a half of our waking hours not focused on the present. And engaging in nonverbal reasoning or talking to ourselves silently is a significant portion of that.
Inner dialogue or in my case actual talking out loud to myself like someone from 60’s Haight-Ashbury—It makes a noise that distracts from authentic mindful relaxation. Whether it is “stinking thinking” (the really negative stuff) to basic synapse hopping (that’s the checklist), the struggle is in the quieting of the brain.
Breathe with closed eyes or roll another wall, pick your path, and once there, focus on it. Be in it fully. Don’t calculate the future or reminisce the past. No internal dialogue or talking out loud that moves you outside. No checklists or angsty thoughts while you lie on the sofa or clean out the closet. Just lie or clean or paint. Be in your practice whatever it is, relax, and lose yourself for a moment or even for a while.
Do nothing or get stuff done. I am peacefully accepting of it all.