Mindfulness is quite ‘in’ these days. Articles, courses, references – it seems to be everywhere I look. I wasn’t really sure what it meant/involved. I thought it was something about being aware in that moment but more than that was unclear to me. I knew more about “Willful Blindness” than about Mindfulness. For a fantastic discussion on that, you should follow Margaret Heffernan and/or read her book, ‘Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious At Our Peril”. I’ve heard her speak and she is FANTASTIC. But I digress. *grin* How like me.
Yesterday at work we had an entire day devoted to learning – personal learning and corporate learning. I confess I was skeptical about the event. I thought it was going to be all ‘live’ presentations of folks droning on and on. It was nothing like that, and I was extremely impressed with how well it ran and the wide range of topics available to pursue. Folks who worked in large locations gathered together in party-like atmospheres, while us remote folks made do with our own kitchens (and cats). One of the options under the Personal Development track was a 45-minute session on Mindfulness. I decided to take that session. (Most of the offerings were a combination of pre-recorded presentations and reading materials, plus other relevant tasks or suggestions.)
This particular session seemed to be aimed at how one could practice mindfulness at work. The goal of practicing mindfulness would lead to a feeling of calm, the ability to focus, reduction of stress, and overall better health. All of which would make you more productive, in all aspects of life. At least, this is what I took away from the session. As is my habit, I took screen shots of material I wanted to remember and revisit. I saved “10 mindfulness habits that will make you more productive at work”, “7 things mindful people do differently”, and “Some mindfulness exercises”. Although one of the ‘habits’ is ‘practice humility’ I’m arrogant and prideful enough to believe that I actually practice the 7 mindful habits most of the time. *laughing* Maybe a good part of the time if not most of the time. A lot of it sounded much like things my therapist used to advise me to embrace.
‘Approach every day things with curiosity and savor them.’ That would probably be something I stop and do deliberately, or when I’m taken by surprise. I do love to learn how different things work and function and to watch skilled people practice their art. ‘Accept that things come and go.’ Oh yeah, that sounds like Howard for sure. “Accept”. He was always reminding me to accept how people are, to accept what I can’t control, to accept the decisions I make. Which leads, of course to another habit: ‘Make peace with imperfection, yours and others.’ ‘Make peace’ is another way to phrase one of Howard’s mantras: Accept, don’t Expect. 🙂
I think the next 4 are really expanded commentary on the others. ‘Forgive mistakes, big and small’; ‘Show gratitude for good moments and grace for bad ones’; ‘Practice compassion and nurture connections’; ‘Embrace vulnerability by trusting others’. I’d like to think that I have made progress on these over the years. I probably have the most difficulty with forgiving and trusting. Being vulnerable is an uncomfortable feeling. On the other hand you don’t want to be all locked away, because that is suffocating.
The 10 habits are ways to practice the 7 guides above. Many of them are ways to “be present”, “stay in the moment”. If you are working a specific project, it’s not that difficult. I imagine most of us can hone in and focus on something we are trying to accomplish. But mindfulness appears to be about staying in the moment and NOT working. And that is very, very difficult for me. My mind is all over the place the minute I try to “relax”. *laughing* I always tell this story about my first yoga class, at one of the local high schools. The first instruction was to stretch out on our mats and relax, and let our minds relax too. Well. Although Ahuva and relax both have 5 letters, other than the ‘a’ there’s not much else they have in common. As I lay there on the floor, I started worrying about my car. Did I lock it, was someone going to break in, what is this relaxing thing anyway, this is boring, what am I supposed to be doing, what am I supposed to be feeling, is everyone else getting this, why am I not getting this. By the time the instructor told us to sit up, I was hyper-ventilating and completely stressed. *grin* I never went back to that class.
I cheated on completing the Mindfulness session. I marked it complete without doing the 10-15 minute practice. I decided I’d try it at home (even though I am NOT a trained professional). 🙂 I decided to give it a try in the hot tub at night. One of the suggested exercises was to take several deep breaths, counting as you inhale, hold it, exhale. That is something I learned 2 years ago when I re-attempted yoga and I do that when my mind begins spinning downward into the vortex. I thought I’d try a different exercise: Mindful observation. Pick an object and observe it for one minute, noticing color, texture, shape, smell, etc.
There’s not much to touch in the hot tub. (Do NOT go there.) I was going to stare at the trees, but they weren’t offering much inspiration. I decided to close my eyes and LISTEN, not LOOK. That I COULD do. It was lovely. I don’t know what creature produced the sounds I heard. One was definitely crickets or cicadas. I don’t know what the other very interesting insect-sounding noise was. I was able to sit there and let go of everything but the moment. I focused on the sounds, I focused on the water moving against my hand, I ‘tracked’ the plane that flew overhead, I heard more bird/insect noises further way. I noticed my breathing, without trying to control it. It really worked. *smile* I sat there for SEVERAL minutes (I think), simply being. I would open my eyes after a bit, move about, settle down and close my eyes and begin again. I felt relaxed and refreshed after I got out of the tub, and did NOT have difficulty falling asleep afterwards.
Today at the office I tried another of the suggestions – Notice 5 things in your day that you don’t typically notice. There are probably a lot of things inside the office that I don’t usually notice, but there are also probably very good reasons why I don’t look there. 🙂 I decided to try to focus during a walk – LOOK at things on my walk, feel the sun and wind, smell whatever might be there (and of course hear the pterodactyl yelling from the warehouse next door).
It went surprisingly well. For starters I walked much more slowly than I usually do, and I made a point to look at the plants, the asphalt, the stones and trees. I saw many plants that I don’t usually notice, and noticed the bark on the trees, the pine cones, little seedlings, spider webs. It wasn’t just the noticing. It was the not having anything else churning in my mind. Usually I’m obsessing about what I have to do and what I’m feeling and why am I feeling that way. There was NONE of that. I was moving slowly, focused on seeing, not thinking, feeling the sun and the breeze. The most thinking I did was when I thought about aiming the camera to take a picture to share. It was incredibly restful.
I stayed focused on seeing, feeling, sensing, for easily 25 minutes. Near the end of my walk I realized that I was losing my ability to stay focused on what was in front of me. I’d been thinking about what I needed to write, about curating the photos I’d been taking, wondering if I could escape down the shore one of these days. That was the point when I checked the time and saw I’d been out there for my usual 30 minutes, but nothing about it felt ‘usual’. I hadn’t even realized how much time had passed. In any case, I think there is a lot here that could be useful if I can figure out how to make it work for me. Huh. There may be something TO this mindfulness thing. *smile*