Trying to wrap my mind around mindfulness

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.  🙂

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10 thoughts on “Trying to wrap my mind around mindfulness

  1. Hi ODM, I also think mindfulness has great potential for helping with depression. One thing that helps me is this: to know that my mind will wander and thoughts will occur. I don’t need to have an empty mind. Instead, I can notice when I have thoughts but then just let them go, and return to my focus – breath, sound, a particular sensation, whatever. As a perfectionist trying to reform herself, I find it easier to accept before I start that my mind will sometimes wander and then I am less judgmental and more likely to take the notice, let go, return to breath approach. That said, I’ve been neglecting my mindfulness practice lately so please continue to write about it as it is inspiring. 🙂

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    • Thanks so much for the suggestion. I think whenever I notice the thoughts, I feel disappointed and like I’m failing. Maybe like you, I need to know before I even start that I’m going to redirect thoughts. Probably many of them…but that the exercise is still worth doing. I will try that – thank you. 🙂

      I’m glad that you found my post inspiring even though I feel like I’m trying to speak a foreign language when I talk about mindfulness! 🙂

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  2. Want to think about the mindfulness a bit more before commenting on it but want to go ahead and respond to the post. This is beautiful. The idea of background music is different and quite lovely. Yay for you for giving yourself some much deserved alone time. Hope it was good for you! 🙂

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  3. Three minutes was great! I have been working on mindfulness. Mostly, I have focused on stopping the negative talk. I’ve almost mastered it, even though I poke fun of myself, I don’t berate myself as much. Now, I feel as if I can take in more of the positive of life, and just be.

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  4. I think mindfulness is notoriously difficult. For everyone. You are not alone. There are lots of suggested techniques for unwanted thoughts, ways of acknowledging them and letting them go, including imagine you’re sitting at the bottom of the stream and the thought is a bubble, it floats to the top and bursts. In my (rather limited) experience the most annoying thought is the “yes, I’m doing it right, hang on, that’s a thought, that means I’m not anymore, ARgGG” one.

    There is no shortcut just practice. But actually, finding the space and time for yourself and sitting still and quiet for 3 mins is no small acheivement. So you haven’t failed at all if you’ve managed that.

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    • Thank you for the encouragement. I didn’t know that there were established techniques for dealing with the unwanted thoughts. I like the idea of the bubble in the stream and will look up some others too. And yes, I definitely have the play by play commentary on how I’m doing with the meditation, in parallel to what I’m not supposed to be thinking about. Whew!

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  5. I’ve been trying to figure out what mindfulness acually is, I’m hoping it’ll help with my anxiety issues and I’m really fed up with being so negative towards myself ! I’ve just started meditating to and I’m finding it really hard to clear my mind , its just constantly wandering and I’m starting to realise how many wasted thoughts I have, I’ve started to put any negative ones into a bubble and let them float away, which seems to work. I also tell myself I’m a happy, peaceful soul, I’m hoping if I say this enough eventually it will come true. I’m trying to be more aware of my surroundings looking at everything thats going on around me and taking note of every little thing that I do, but it is a constant running commentary in my head too, not sure if I’m over thinking it, surely I want to try and clear my mind not overthink everything I’m doing. Lol

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    • Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. 🙂 I’m glad that I’m not the only one with the constant commentary in my head! It’s exhausting, and it’s terribly unhealthy when the talk is so negative. I like your idea of telling yourself that you’re happy and peaceful. It sounds similar to my thinking that everything that happens around me, and my life too, is part of a musical symphony.

      I do think that with work, we can get better at mindfulness and meditation. I’m convinced that it would help me with my depression and anxiety – but I need to be more committed to it. Some days I just don’t have the energy to tackle something new to work on, but I should keep trying just the same.

      Let me know if you find other things that help!

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