Today I watched my toddler eat a sandwich. I’d read this article about how when your children grow up you really miss that (crazy and exhausting) toddler phase, and it made me stop and watch my little boy.
He picked up a small triangle of sandwich carefully between his fingers and studied it. He turned it over and switched hands. Then he took his forefinger and pushed it gently into the jam and butter, then held his finger up and studied it. He licked the jam off his finger, swirled it around in his mouth and swallowed. He gave a little nod, then took a bite, chewed it, then swallowed again. Then he just stopped and stared at the sandwich.
Nothing could take his attention away.
My son is an expert at mindfulness. And he’s only 2.
Here I am, significantly older, and trying my hardest to be more mindful. Trying my hardest to stay in the moment and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
Why does growing up force us to be less mindful? As each year passes, my little boy’s mind will be filled with more and more thoughts of the past, worries about the future and concerns about the present. Sadly, he’ll lose that intense pleasure of a simple jam sandwich.
But right now, life is his to be enjoyed. And as part of getting my balance back I’ll try to experience it with him as much as I can.
Right now, he’s spinning around on the spot happily singing the words to ‘Mary had a little lamb’ and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.
I’m just over a third of my way through the time I’ve set aside to get my balance back. Time for a review.
Right now. Right this very minute I feel good. Really good. And it’s not because things are finally going well for me (they’re not) and I have so much more to smile about (not really), it seems to be that despite bad things happening this week I feel more stable and grounded than I have in months.
My depressive cycle is over. Of course depression may – and probably will – come back at some stage in my life but at the moment it has been lifted and I can see clearly. Those negative thoughts running through my head constantly have gone. My dreaming of the past and wishing I could get my old self back has stopped. Even the feelings of guilt for putting myself first has dissipated. This is excellent.
This week I’ve had a sick child in hospital, a fetus threatening to up and leave and very little sleep. I’ve had morning sickness, jabbing pain from an ovarian cyst and an insatiable hunger. I’ve had medical appointment after medical appointment and very little spare time.
But you know what? I’ve survived. And that’s called resilience.
I’ve started meditating regularly since I decided I needed to get my balance back. I went to a course at the local Tibetan Buddhist shrine and the other day I went to a meditation course at a yoga studio. They were quite different (the former focused on becoming a better person for the common good of man, and the latter was about how to use meditation to reach personal goals) but together they’ve opened my eyes to the significant benefits of stillness.
I particularly enjoy the longer meditations – 15 mins or more – where I can really immerse myself into the moment and let go of the thoughts and worries around me.
Today was particularly successful. I listened to a body awareness guided meditation on YouTube that went for 17 mins. I had a moment – maybe only for a minute – where my body was completely still. I feel like you could have balanced a pin on the tip of my nose and it wouldn’t have fallen.
Before the meditation my head was full of worries and immediately afterwards I felt calm and aware. It’s not about ignoring my worries, it’s about acknowledging them and accepting them. This is exactly the type of spiritual healing I had in mind when I made ‘spiritual health’ one of my areas of focus.
I’ve recently been having a big think about my values and how these relate to goals. Previously, I wouldn’t have thought about separating values and goals, but The Happiness Trap made me think differently about things.
Let’s take work as an example. Before I realised I needed to get my balance back, I was pretty sure that I wanted to manage high profile projects and get a promotion. Those were my goals and I thought they were also my values.
But recently I’ve been questioning this. Why do I want to manage high profile projects/get a promotion? I guess I wanted people to look up to me and to respect me. I wanted to show to others that I could do a good job. I wanted to get to the end of my life and look back and go ‘I delivered that awesome thing at work’.
Honestly, though, are they things that I actually value? They’re all based on others’ perception of me, rather than true meaning and personal satisfaction.
So what do I value at work? What aspects to I truly enjoy and get satisfaction from?
I enjoy helping and mentoring others. I enjoy doing a task really well. I enjoy having a to-do list and getting through it each day. I enjoy being organised. I enjoy socialising and laughing and hearing about the lives of others.
Additionally, I enjoy leaving work at a set time. I enjoy being home each night for my family and I enjoy having space on the weekends where I’m not thinking about work. I enjoy my privacy and completely separating work from home.
Today I decided to practice a mindfulness exercise while eating my lunch.
I’ve been encouraged by a number of people to live in the moment. Experience the here and now. Forget about the past and forget about the future for at least a few moments a day.
The writer in me found this all very interesting. A common critique I get about my stories is that I don’t engage the five senses – that I should introduce elements of smell, taste, touch and sound and stop relying on images and sights. Interesting that my mind has the same problem as my writing.
So I heated up my pizza and sat in front of a blank white wall. I focused on the pizza and only the pizza, and my five senses.
Needless to say I didn’t have any mind-blowing epiphanies while looking at my thin-crust vegetarian, but I did notice:
the way the pizza slice contracts then slowly expands when I take a bite
how I could close my eyes and know whether I was about to eat baby spinach, tomato or corn solely through my sense of smell
that the sound of chewing comes from both the friction of my teeth on pizza and of the pizza being crushed
that the chilli on the pizza first hit the back of my mouth, and only after the first three bites
how crunchy crust feels good to break with my teeth, whereas soft crust feels better when swirled around in my mouth
I had a few thoughts creep in while I did this practice, but I was able to acknowledge them and send them on their way before they consumed my thoughts.
It’s been two years since I stepped into a yoga studio. I’ve known all this time that my body and mind were craving the balance, strength and relaxation that I felt back then. So I signed up for a month’s unlimited visit pass and had my first class today.
The minute I sat on the mat I felt better. It was a combination of the familiar rubber smell of my yoga mat and the fact my hips cracked giving me instant relief.
The class was hard. Two years ago I was doing post-natal yoga and before that it was pre-natal yoga… quite different to the hot power yoga class I did today. It was challenging for my mind and body and the relaxation at the end was fantastic.
I’m not going to set any goals. There’s part of my over-achieving self that wants to say I’ll go to yoga 5 times a week and be able to do a Reverse Arrow by November. But I know that’s one of my problems: I set goals, then I don’t achieve them, then I beat myself up about them, then I get depressed. Then because I’m depressed I achieve even fewer of my goals.
After the yoga class I felt great. It’s been a while since I’ve done any structured exercise and a long time since I’ve pushed myself physically.
This week I went to my local Rigpa for the first time. They were offering a free introductory course on Tibetan Buddhist meditation so I thought I’d go along.
I’d meditated in the past – especially during my first pregnancy as part of the Calm Birth course and prenatal yoga. But since my son was born all those moments of mindfulness and calm went out the window (at post-natal yoga where you take your baby they didn’t even bother attempting a meditation at the end… which was pretty reflective of my general life).
So I went along to the Rigpa and started the course. We sat on cushions or chairs – I chose a cushion – in front of a giant gold Buddha surrounded in flowers. It had an instant calming effect even before we started the practice. When the guide announced we would do our first meditation I crossed my legs, put my hands on my knees and closed my eyes.
‘Don’t close your eyes,’ she said.
I looked up, surprised.
‘Focus on a spot in the room and keep your gaze there.’
We were told to let thoughts come an go. Don’t dwell on them, but don’t push them aside either. We were told it’s like standing at a bus stop and letting buses go by. Acknowledge the bus and let it pass. Not every bus that comes by the bus stop is the one you want… so don’t get on it.
Keeping my eyes open allowed me to focus more on my meditation. The knot on the wooden floor grew larger then seemed to move further away. Near and far. Near and far. Thoughts came but I waved them on. They weren’t the bus I needed to catch that night.
In previous meditations with my eyes closed, my mind was more likely to wander. With my eyes closed the darkness behind my eyelids quickly became images of things that would consume my thoughts. With my eyes open, and staring at the knot in the wooden floor, I didn’t once become consumed by the voice in my head. I was able to complete a solid meditation and give that overactive mind of mine some rest.
I dreamt last night that I was talking to a work colleague and we were comparing our pregnancies.
‘I’ve had the worst morning sickness,’ she said.
‘Mine’s been pretty good,’ I responded.
‘And the aches and the pains… everywhere!’
I shook my head. ‘I feel physically pretty good.’
‘And the food cravings! I haven’t been able to exercise and I’m just getting fatter and fatter,’ she said.
‘No,’ I shook my head, ‘I haven’t had any of that.’
She laughed and said, ‘Well, haven’t you had the perfect pregnancy?!’
We paused for a while, then something sprung to mind.
‘Oh, except one thing I forgot to mention: I had a miscarriage.’
This dream shocked my system and woke me up suddenly, because it explained so vividly what I’ve been feeling.
Women who have miscarriages don’t get to celebrate their pregnancies. We don’t get to talk about the ups and downs of pregnancy. When I use the phrase ‘when I was pregnant’ it seems to make others uncomfortable simply because there was no full-term baby at the end of it.
But I was pregnant and I felt the pregnancy like every other mother felt theirs.