Saturday, April 20, 2013

#105: Be Mindful

This is the last in a series of posts tracking my experience in a mindfulness-based cognitive-therapy course.

My toes flex as they push my foot from the sidewalk into the air, engaging my ankle, calf, knee, thigh, hip and buttock muscles to propel my leg forward. The muscles release as my heel finds its way back to the sidewalk. When my toes land just in front of my heel, the process repeats itself. Again. And again. Heel. Toe. Push. Heel. Toe. Push. My pace is slow but the pattern is quick. It's more like heeltoepushheeltoepush or hltoPUSH!ltoPUSH!hltoPUSH! Again. And again.

My right foot lands in a break in the concrete where the sidewalk meets the grass, causing a moment of uncertainty as my foot tries to catch its balance. I feel the flat muscles at the bottom of my foot seize and stretch as it searches for level ground. Finally on even footing, I'm able to regain my rhythm and continue onward. hltoPUSH!hltoPUSH!hltoPUSH!

The pattern is methodic and I notice the heat of my body building underneath my light, polyester rain jacket. I'm suddenly aware of a tingling feeling and coolness on my lower back. I guess that it's damp and feel the slight trickle of what I assume is a bead of sweat. It feels good to be moving, getting my heart pumping and breathing in the fresh, heavy April air. I wish I got out of the office like this more often. Why don't I prioritize this feeling?

But no. That thought is not a part of my intended focus right now. My intended focus right now is on my steps. hltoPUSH...hltoPUSH....hltoPUSH... Again. And again. Just until I get to the subway.

Once I'm on the subway, I let go of my focus and let my mind go wherever it wants. I consider what I'll make for dinner. I toil over what that person meant when they said that to me earlier in the day. I count the days until the weekend. I run through my weekend schedule in my head, taking inventory of my free hours. I remind myself to call that friend I haven't spoken with in a while. I make a note to pay my credit card bill. Check in with my mom. Do the laundry.

By the time I reach home I have no memory of the subway ride. My to-do list is full and I am somehow overwhelmed and defeated all at the same time. There's so much to do but so little time to do it.

I like to think my blog is about experience. About finding ways to either experience life as a whole or just a moment in a way that enriches the time we have on this earth. I don't mean that to be melodramatic. Mine and your time here is finite. And through this blog I'm learning the only way to experience my life is simply to take notice of it. Or, as the late David Foster Wallace suggests, "to keep reminding ourselves over and over: this is water. This is water. This is water."

With this lens on, let's examine the two parts of my commute. The mindful part of my commute, I was walking, feeling, noticing, seeing. I was a little distracted but able to get back to my focus on walking, feeling, noticing, seeing. The second part, I was thinking freely. Thinking of obligations, responsibilities, worries, insecurities, life questions. Nothing that can be resolved. Just misguided thoughts.

To use my commute as some kind of metaphor for life experience, in which part do you think I was 'happiest'?

Walking mindfully, although the focus was on the monotonous action of walking, immersed me in the present moment. I noticed simple, small pleasures. I can walk. My muscles are working. My heart is pumping and my lungs are taking in the air that surrounds me. I was a little distracted but as soon as I noticed it turned out cool.

... and in the second, I was planning, anticipating, toiling and worrying. I resigned, sullen and defeated by petty, nonsensical fears. Fear of not being able to care for myself. Fear of what people think. Fear of not paying a bill on time. Fear of just getting through the week. Fears that ultimately caused a tight knot to form in the pit of my stomach that reminds me no. Things aren't cool.

If happiness for me is complete immersion in the experience of life, and acknowledgement that life can often be absurd, silly, ridiculous, powerful and fun all at the same time, then the answer is easy. In the former part of my commute, I could feel David Foster Wallace's 'water' around me. I could observe the subleties of experience and notice what was happening in the real world. Not the torturous, fictional world that often unfolds in my head.

Mindfulness isn't grandiose or complex. It's simple. Add to your experience of life by noticing it. How does it feel? hltoPUSH! What do you hear? hltoPUSH! What are you afraid of? hltoPUSH!hltoPUSH! And take into consideration Thich Nhat Hanh's valuable advice:

"Life is only available in the present moment."

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