I’ve been on a mindfulness kick the past few days. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m convinced that mindfulness would help me to manage my depression as well as help with some patterns of behavior that are unhealthy for me. But, I’m FAR from understanding what mindfulness really is, not to mention trying to put it into practice. I keep banging my head against it but feel like I make very little progress.
We’re still at the beach, wrapping up our vacation week here. Yesterday I was proactive about self-care (yay me!) so I left my husband, the three kids, and an energetic puppy in our little cottage while I went for a walk. Hallelujah – I was free!!! I did a walk/run/mostly walk to get some exercise and then found myself on the beach.
I love, love, love the ocean. I’m not crazy about swimming in it but I love walking on the beach, hearing the waves, looking out at the vastness of the ocean. So yesterday I found a spot on the beach and closed my eyes for some deep breathing. I felt a bit ridiculous, but I wanted to do it – so I did. I’ve meditated a few times before with some quick 3-5 minute guided meditations that I’ve downloaded. I didn’t have my phone with me to play those (yay me! completely disconnected!), but I was able to recite them in my head.
It felt great to just sit there and focus on my breathing and the sounds of the ocean. I remembered how in one of my guided meditations, the woman talks about listening to the sounds. She said that we have a tendency to make a story out of the sounds we hear – an explanation, or pull up a memory, or whatever. But that we should simply try to hear the sounds for what they are without extrapolating anything. As if the sounds are part of a favorite song that played in the background. So I tried that – but it was tough. I’d hear the crash of the waves – and suddenly I was thinking about which direction the waves are coming from, and how the sound changes as they move from right to left, and isn’t the Doppler effect involved? Or I’d hear the little boy from the family nearby as he shrieked and yelled something to his parents – and I was thinking about how old he is, how his mom looks so happy to be there, did I enjoy my kids at that age?, can he swim? my kids should be better swimmers, and so on.
Eventually (as in, 3 minutes later), I ended my meditation. I admit that I felt like a failure because 3 minutes of breathing was so tough for me, but I tried to be loving and accepting and all that good stuff. Hey – I tried.
As I continued my walk down the beach, it occurred to me that I’m always trying to make a narrative out of each little thing that crosses my path. This is rarely a positive, uplifting narrative for me, as my Inner Critic has a field day with these sorts of open-ended exercises. But the narrative is always there, and it’s always jumping from one thing to the next, without missing a beat. What if I approached this running narrative as if it were the background music my meditation-guider talked about? What if all of these things that cross my path are part of the background music that doesn’t get judged or analyzed or shaped into a narrative? So the little boy playing on the beach – I just hear him, see him, and acknowledge that he is there. Maybe I note the joy in his mother’s face – but without any judgment on myself. And the two runners who passed me on my walk – the women with 0.12% body fat? Yep, maybe they’re part of my background music too. Trying not to turn that into a narrative of how I should look, and what I should be doing for exercise, and whether they look so great because they haven’t had three pregnancies – well, that’s clearly no small feat, but maybe that’s what mindfulness would have me do. (I guarantee you that their bodies had NOT endured the stresses of pregnancy. Well, maybe one or two – but certainly not three. No way.)
I continued on my walk thinking about this idea that this is all part of some background music that drifts by me and is acknowledged and nothing more. It kind of spoke to me. In fact when I returned to the cottage and my husband asked me how my walk was, I was tempted to reply with something very zen like, “It was.” But I figured that would be highly unsatisfying for him after he had juggled all those creatures in that cottage while I walked.
Then life took over and I jumped back into mommy mode, and it became impossible to think about any of this accepting-not-judging stuff. Not only that, but I found myself wondering, If I’m irritable and annoyed at the kids (sadly, a common occurrence lately), do I just accept that as me being irritable and annoyed? If so, how do I ever make changes to my behavior if I’m always telling myself that I’m A-Ok?
I realize that some of this thinking is circular, and the rest goes in about 8 different directions. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on mindfulness and how you think it works – in your life or in theory. I promise that I’ll be loving and accepting of whatever you choose to share. 🙂