MINDFUL or MINDLESS?
Have you lost your mind? Sometimes I feel I’ve lost mine. Especially in these times.
Globally, we human beings have experienced hateful racist crimes, law enforcement atrocities, pandemic sickness, and social isolation, loss of jobs and financial stability, bizarre weather patterns, and political outrage. And that’s just outside the home. Inside our cozy nests, we may experience cabin fever, social media fatigue, extended work hours, and futile arguments over whose turn it is to do the dishes. This auspicious year of 2020 so far has turned out to be quite the test for one’s endurance and resilience. But in hindsight, 2020 may prove to be the most awakening year of our lives, if we find the mind we’ve lost and practice mindfulness.
What have you learned so far? How has making the shift of running around to being still opened your eyes to what’s important to you? And what have you found is indeed important to you? Sure, a mani-pedi wouldn’t suck right about now, but will that really fulfil your heart’s deepest desire? How have cooking together and eating more meals with your family (or with friends on Zoom) enhanced the quality of your connections? Have you taken the time to appreciate the little things, like birds singing us awake in the morning or a quiet cup of coffee you brewed yourself? What closets have you finally cleared out because you have what no money can buy -- more time at home. And have you noticed that you have more than enough jeans and lip liner and cotton swabs, perhaps enough to donate half of it and still have more than you could ever need? What new hobbies have you taken on? The New York Times crossword puzzle, or paint by numbers, or even meditation?
Meditation is the antidote to every distraction in the universe. It’s a mental and physical time out, a chance for the mind and body to rest, recover, and reset, so that when you open your eyes you see more clearly. Think of it as wiper fluid for your brain. Each of us has this built-in mechanism to restore our nervous system to calm, balance, and ease. Just put your meat in a seat and slow down the breath. Simple, right? Right. But not always easy. We tell ourselves we are just too busy. Or we feel our brain is wildly active, what Buddhists call ‘monkey mind.” Clients tell me, “I just can’t meditate. I can’t shut my brain off,” and I tell them that if they are able to shut their brain off they need to check their pulse to see if they are alive. It’s not about having no thoughts, it’s about slowing down the thoughts. And I should know, because I was one of those people who swore they couldn’t sit for more than one minute. And now, after 20 years of dedicated daily practice, I’m up to 20 minutes on most days.
There are several ways to meditate, either by repeating a mantra (a word or words to focus your attention on) to yourself, or by noticing thoughts and letting them go, or by following the breath or by imagining yourself in a peaceful place in nature. There are many paths to follow to one destination: peace and quiet in our home called the self.
Self-care is not selfish. It is the one thing we have the most control over. And most caregivers would agree, we have to take care of ourselves before we can truly take care of another. So would I like a mani-pedi and a blowout? You bet. Deep-tissue massage? Bring it. Facial? F-yeah. One might even argue that I need a little makeover in the not too distant future. Until then, meditation beautifies from within. We get to take a few minutes each day to brush off the brain, detoxify the blood and organs with deep breathing, connect with the wizard in my heart, and listen like my life depends on it. She whispers, “You don’t need a bag of caramel corn. You don’t need that new cellulite cream. You don’t need him to tell you he loves you. All you need is already within you, I am your breath of life, and I am with you where ever you go.”
Not that I’m going anywhere any time soon. So I’ll take a seat in every room in the house and make it my place of meditation. I’ll go to the Maldives in my mind. Perhaps you’ll meet me there.
Jennifer Graf, LCSW