Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Elusiveness of Mindfulness

The 70s - crochet's glory days!
You know how some things feel right from the first moment you try them? Like crocheting, for instance - I remember the first time I borrowed a hook and the tail end of a ball of synthetic yarn from a lady up the street, and *crocheted the hell out of* a chain stitch before doubling back with the blissful revelation of single crochet. I wasn't making anything in particular, but it just felt right.

Writing is like that, of course, and also holding babies and planting bulbs and peeling sunburns and kneading dough. Adding columns of numbers - even calculus! - and painting walls and coasting on a bicycle: all second nature.

What does emphatically not feel right to me, no matter how often I return, is mindfulness. This is not to say that I don't believe in its power - it has saved my ass any number of times. But I resist. I abandon it the moment the sailing gets smooth again, convince myself I don't need it, find a thousand other things that seem more important. Pledge to open the notebook, do the breathing exercise, empty my mind, only to find that it is once again evening of a long day in which I did not make the time.

This time of year, when we consider resolutions and commitments and promises to "do better," it's natural to zero in on those practices that elude us. And we're remarkably varied: I don't have much trouble keeping up with exercise or volunteering, for instance, both common resolutions...and there are lots of people out there for whom mindfulness seems to come easily. One woman's eat-more-kale is another's yell-at-other-drivers-less, so to speak. But why is that? Why do we resist some things that we know are good for us, and give ourselves over easily to others?

A big part of my neglect of mindfulness has to do with leaving a formal group practice. It's a lot easier to keep up when there's a looming deadline; I'm not about to let down my fellow DBT strivers or be the lame-ass person who didn't do the homework (that shame/guilt cocktail has been the subject of many a mindful journal entry, ironically). But that in itself is not the whole story, as there are many practices that I keep up quite well without any sort of formal or group involvement (Weight Watcher point counting comes to mind; also 100-words-a-day for those of you who remember…pushup challenge, fitbit, my budget, and so on).

I'm actually being a bit coy because I already know the answer to why I'm resisting. We balk out of fear. The challenges we most resist/procrastinate/avoid are those that bear the greatest risk of failure, where failure is measured by a complex internal equation that may or may not have anything to do with reality. Resolving to finally finish that first novel, for instance, exposes you to a whole compendium of risk - what if it's abysmal, what if it gets rejected, what if someone finds out you can't remember the proper use of lay/lie and further/farther?

In my case, mindfulness practice is a blunt force trauma shove into facing things I don't feel like facing. Yes, it's good for me. Yes, I'm aware that I'll feel clarity after I put my time in, and that I'll be more likely to act in accordance to my values, blah blah blah. But it will be profoundly uncomfortable first. I will have to accept my own thoughts and feelings and "sit with them" (oh, odious phrase) and resist my preferred method of problem solving, which is to attack problems with an axe and a battle cry and no plan to speak of. Will the discomfort be worse, in the long run, than denial and repeating patterns which have not worked in the past? Of course not. But it's still daunting.

All of this is me leading up to a recommitment, naturally. Yeah, yeah, I'll do it, I'll get my mindful back on, grudgingly at first (but I'll notice the grudging and not judge, allowing it to wash over me like a wave…oh, gak!). For any of you who wish to join me, here is a marvelous summary of the concept of willingness and what it can do for you. It's good stuff, despite the occasional unfortunate florid language and purple metaphor with which all new age-y thinking seems to be infected.

Wishing you all a peaceful new year and see you on the other side….


Mary Gottschalk said...

I enjoyed this blog a lot, and very much related to the aversion to doing all the things that we know are good for us. But I suppose I don't feel quite same burden with the concept of mindfulness. I'm certainly not as mindful as I ought to be … I get way too absorbed in people and projects. But I use mindfulness as a constant reminder that we live life in the "now," not in the future or the past.

Enjoy this moment … it may be all you'll ever get!

Kristen W said...

Which lady up the street? Wishing you a mindful year!