The Madness of Mindfulness
It’s summer time and livin’ is easy, sang Ella Fitzgerald,
She’d clearly never worked from home juggling two jobs, three kids and a school holiday longer than a school term. With a newbie teenager exercising her penchant for pushing boundaries, a preteen with a penchant for day-time sleeping and an eight year old with a penchant for sitting on top of the shed roof singing to the birds, my penchant for ‘Calm Parenting’ can seem like a laughable concept. Throw in work deadlines, increased meal production, ‘plate-off-the-floor-lifting’ and taxi duties, and the theory of my flexible working hours feels in practise that it relates only to the flexibility of my head to be able to turn in 15 directions at once.
Throw into the mix a dog who wants walked, a cat that had kittens and a tortoise that’s gone awol, and the idea of being able to meditate (as every other article on well-being is telling me to do) makes me want to burst into spontaneous flames of frustration.
Given my life looks no different to most of the women I know, I’m not alone in being one of those people who loves the theory of mindfulness but struggles with the reality. But then recently, when I was on my hands and knees scouring the overgrown undergrowth of my back garden for the baby tortoise, I realised that it is the struggle that is the point of mindfulness.
It’s the journey not the destination. It’s the mind-fuck not the mind-blank. It’s the marathon training, not the medal. It’s the chewing not the empty plate.
For any of you who have tried the ‘eating the raison mindfully’ exercise you might not have realised this. Because who in their right, or wrong mind, enjoys eating a raison mindfully? I mean, a raison?
Do these people not know me (and most of the women like me)? I needed a reason not a raison. If they’d suggested a square of salted dark chocolate to savour succulently in my mouth, I’d have got it first time.
Brushing our teeth mindfully? I’ve as much luck brushing off the idea of getting three kids off to school without tantrums as brushing my teeth mindfully in the mornings. But if they’d suggested drinking a long cool Gin mindfully? I’d have figured it out much sooner. Mindfulness the raison way is just another way for us to fail; mindfulness the reasoned way is much more likely to make us feel better about ourselves.
The point is, I missed the point.
I thought I was a failure because I wasn’t sitting cross legged, humming om, my mind a blissful cavernous cave of nothingness. Perhaps a Buddhist monk who has spent 20 years dedicated to the art can do it, but I doubt very much if they were single parenting, double jobbing and triple binding * they’d be quite so masterful. So as I was on all fours looking for the tortoise I realised I was actually being incredibly mindful. I was in the moment, taking in every stone and leaf because tortoises are the millennial masters of camouflage and therefore you can’t scan the garden with one eye, while worrying about what to make for the dinner. I had to see – really see – every moment of the search. Mindfully; my mind blank except for each second of sight. And I realised that happens in all kinds of ways in my life already; mindful moments that don’t fuck with my mind because my mind has drifted off like the tortoise to where the (thought) grass is greener.
Our minds do wander. The point of mindfulness is to catch yourself doing it, and come back to the moment. Oh, off again? Come back. Oh there it is.. my mind floating over there. Bring it back. It’s catching yourself that matters, not losing yourself in thought.
So for this bank holiday weekend, here are some ways to be mindful without fucking your mind (given that many of you may not indeed have a baby tortoise on the loose in the garden):
- Search for a dog’s ball in the autumn leaves. The balls are yellow. So are the leaves. You can lose an entire Sunday morning doing this with no other purpose but you get to appreciate every fallen leaf, and curse yellow balls.
- Eat the last square of chocolate when the shops are closed (or you’ve already had a glass of wine so can’t nip out). That last square needs to be savoured and relished as if it was….. the last square of chocolate.
- A cloud gaze. Now this is a bit ‘airy fairy’ as my daughter would say, but a friend recently reminded me of the pleasure of stopping(or lying on the ground, but parks or gardens are best for this, rather than the main road). It’s the same as star gazing, but if I lie down anywhere in the dark now, my body will rejoice that it must be bedtime and refuse to get up again.
- Swim in the sea. This is a new experience for me, but the shock / pain / pleasure combo is so exhilarating it is positively spiritual. Once your brain has frozen with the shock, all you can feel is your body… mindfully.
- Listen to the birds. I forgot my ipods one day when walking the dog and was about to get annoyed at the TOTAL WASTE OF 40 MINUTES when I could be listening to the news, or catching up with a VERY IMPORTANT podcast, when I was startled into the moment by a bird. By several birds. Singing and yakking like a Cum-ba-ya party. It was glorious. And so I listened and walked and was staggered by how much of nature I heard.
- Hanging out the white wash. With four females in my house, the amount of white pants and runner socks (all a different size) is staggering. I used to loath and detest this itty bit wash that takes forever to hang out. But then I decided that hating it – and getting angry at hating it – only made it more hateful. So now I deliberately engage and hang out every singe sock with intent. It’s one of the most calming 5 minutes of my week.
Just sit. Be. Watch a bee buzz around the flowers in the garden. Your mind will wander. Watch the bee. Your mind will wander. Listen to the bee. Your mind will wander. Smile at the bee. It’s the buzz not the zen that matters.
PS In case you were wondering, I found the tortoise…
PPS * Coined by Dr Stephen Hinshaw, the term Triple Bind refers to the three crippling pressures put on women and girls – fulfil the traditional ‘girl’ expectations (look pretty, be nice, have a boyfriend, and always put others before yourself); succeed at “boy” goals and expectations (be competitive, get straight A’s, be a super athlete, and earn a well-paid career); and be 100% perfect, 100% of the time