At a time when we are always connected and generally distracted, is it any surprise that we are struggling to connect with the things we really value? Our sense of wonder, our ability to create, our true connections to one another. How does one go about being present and mindful? What does being mindful even mean?
According to Job Kabat-Zinn, founder of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center’s Mindfulness – Based Stress Reduction Program, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Um, ok. But where does one even start?
For me I decided to try meditation. Which goes something like this:
I find some quiet time in the early afternoon after I finishing up a couple writing assignments for work and before my kids get home from school. I select our spare bedroom as my meditation space, partly because the lighting seems calming and peaceful but mostly because when I look around the room I don’t see a million other things I should be doing like dusting, straightening up or folding laundry…
So, I plop down sitting Indian-style on the floor in the room with my hands resting on my knees.
However, before I can even start to think about how to meditate, I hear my friend’s voice in my head chastising me “we no longer say Indian-style… it’s criss-cross-apple-sauce because that’s less offensive”. Which starts an internal debate in my head as to whether Native American Indians are really upset with that term or whether she is just overly cautious about not offending people. I decide more research is needed and take a mental note to Google it later.
Concentrate I tell myself as I close my eyes and focus on my breath – I breathe in through my nose and feel my chest rise. Hum, I think I’m supposed to inhale through my mouth and feel the air fill into my abdomen.
Nope. I still only feel it in my chest.
I try inhaling through my nose. Still no rising in my abdomen.
I push the walls of my stomach outward with my ab muscles as I exhale making myself look several months pregnant. Then pull my belly in while sucking the air back into my lungs.
It’s hard to breathe. And not relaxing at all. This can’t be right.
So, I decide to just breathe normally – in and out. Ok this I can do.
I tell myself to relax and just breathe.
My mind wanders to what I should fix for dinner….
Focus on breathing I tell myself.
A whole internal dialog ensues about how boring it is to focus on breathing.
I shish myself.
I try to relax when suddenly there is pressure on multiple spots on my leg followed by a spread of warmth. I open one eye to find my cat curled up in the center of my lap. Her body vibrating as she slowly kneads one paw at a time into my leg. “Well, don’t you look content,” I say petting her.
A sharp prick of her claws has me yelping as I pick her up from my lap. She glares at me with annoyance as I set her down outside the room and shut the door.
OK let’s try this again I think resuming my position on the floor.
I try not to think about the fact that I’ve wasted time, that the kids will be coming home soon and that I have plenty of other things I could be doing. Just focus on yourself. Breathe. In. Out. Focus.
There is a whine followed by frantic scratching at the door.
It’s the dog.
While he was fine hanging out by himself moments ago. Now he has decided that the closed door means I am in immediate danger and the only way I’ll survive is if he tunnels beneath.
I sigh and open the door.
You’re alive! His movements shout as he dances around me. I shake my head and slide down to the ground leaning against the doorframe.
I give up.
The dog lays down beside me as I pet him. The cat not wanting to be left out, makes her way back onto my lap needling me with her claws before settling in.
I close my eyes as I stroke their fur. The cat’s soft like a stuffed animal, the dog’s coarser.
We remain in the doorway, relaxed and calm. I think about the both of them.
How we brought the dog from a breeder when our oldest child was terminal with cancer. How the dog would sit for hours curled up in a chair or on the bed next to our son. My mind replays watching my son run his hands through the dog’s fur as medicine pumped through an IV line attached to him.
The cat we would find in a drainage pipe maybe a year after our son passed away. At the time she seemed so helplessly tiny and all alone. We would spend years trying to convince the cat that she was loved. She would spend equally as long avoiding all of us as much as possible. I’m not sure when she finally decided that we were worthy of her but eventually she did.
All of this comes to mind as I sit in the doorway petting our animals.
I think about the fact that I failed at meditation… didn’t even come close.
But then I smile. I did however find a way to be mindful… to be grateful for what was right in front of me. So perhaps God, the universe, fate… was reminding me that being mindful doesn’t require a big change on my part. It just requires paying attention in the moment.