Pay Attention. Pay Attention. Pay Attention.When we first consider Mindful-ness, what image comes to mind? Our friend Buddha? Perhaps some other sage, or maybe even ourself in some state of repose and calm. Mindfulness is often used as a buzzword, accompanied by images of wide open fields and people sitting in meditation with their eyes closed. But really, an invitation to Mindfulness is a call to really slow down and take our time, to
Pay Attention. Pay Attention. Pay Attention.
But, how much time do I have? Being Mindful sometimes seems like such an agonizingly S L O W process. Life is BUSY. RIGHT? Places to go. Things to do. People to see… It never ends! I’m sure you’re well acquainted with the following statements:
“I have a lot on my plate right now.”
“I am just juggling so many things.”
“I feel like a fireman putting out fires all day long.”
Recently, I have begun to think of myself as a spinner of plates. You see them at Renaissance Fairs and in Circus types of performances. The performer gets a bunch of volunteers, asks them each to hold a stick, then proceeds to spin a plate on the end of each stick ~ the performer then dashes back and forth, keeping each plate spinning for as long as possible. The audience is on the edge of their seats:
will a plate start to wobble ~ will it crash to the floor?
I have lots of plates: the hubby, each of three sons, the two dogs, the errands, the “To Do” list, the schedule (which sometimes requires magic to fit everything).. and, oh yes, a few minutes to do “my own thing” which might actually include taking care of myself. Sound familiar?
I came up with this metaphor a few months ago when, in the midst of the school morning rush of making breakfasts and lunches, feeding the dogs and letting them outside for the third time, and thinking about all the things I was going to do that day, my son announced that early in the morning he had thrown up. WHAT!? Suddenly, everything ground to a screeching halt. His “plate” crashed to the floor; several more “plates” shattered as I felt my whole day shift. In that moment, my entire day changed.
On mornings like that, my mind is just full to overflowing. There’s so much to do, so much to keep track of ~ I start to feel like I am living in a Las Vegas casino: totally and completely overstimulated even though probably less than five minutes have passed. We can call this Mind-fullness.
Mindful-ness or Mind-fullness?
How often are we in a state of one or the other?
Does it have to be either / or?
Maybe we need some ground rules, a way to break this down:
1 ~ We need Filters.
Without filters, Mindfulness and Busyness can be very similar. If my practice of Mindfulness entailed paying attention, fully, to everything around me, as well as all the sensations within myself that go along with whatever I am experiencing outside of myself, I might start to feel inundated in probably less than a minute. A simple task of walking across the backyard would take all afternoon, and the cacophony of sounds and images would make my brain hurt!
We need to realize that our minds can only handle so much at one time. When the clamoring for my attention gets overwhelming, I ask, “How many things can I do at once?” to myself and anyone else around. My boys are trained to respond “One,” which, while sometimes accompanied by an eye-roll, at least reminds us all to take a break.
I can switch channels quickly, but I can only land on one channel at a time.
2 ~ Let Go Of The Story.
Yes, I capitalized each word on purpose. It’s one thing to have a bunch of things going on in any given moment, hour, day. It’s quite another to compound all that with an endless running commentary and litany of complaints. Just focus on the Task at Hand. People used to ask me all the time what it was like to have three children under 4, one of them with special needs – was it hard? how did I do it? My answer to them: “Yeah, welcome to my circus. I just do what’s needful in any given moment,
if I think about it, that’s when it gets overwhelming.”
3 ~ (in the beginning) Practice Mindful-ness when it’s Easy.
Being fully present to what’s happening now is super challenging when there are five “plates” spinning, so start with something basic. One of the Zen practices is to always enter the room with the right foot first. In Yoga we align our mats with the floor boards and we fold our blankets to have no bumps. We can follow our breath and learn to really breathe fully, deeply, slowly. When I am in a yoga class, I have trained myself to let everything go except Just. This. Pose. In this way, I can feel my body dialoging with the pose to find alignment or stuck spots. If I can let go of the day’s to do list and simply feel my body, perhaps my mind will find some stillness.
Through observation and evaluation, begin to
establish a Baseline of Awareness.
How much does it matter with which foot we enter a room or whether/ not our mat is straight? The world won’t end if we don’t pay attention to these things. They are training the mind.
Opportunity for Self-Study, for Noticing.
If I get to know how my body and mind feels in a posture on my mat, I will be more likely to notice that walking around all day in the “wrong” shoes not only makes my feet sore, my mind will be distracted and I get really cranky.
If, by watching my breath, I notice how deeply or shallowly I breathe in a given situation, then the link between the quality of my breath and my stress level will become apparent and I can use that information to control my breath to control the spinning in my mind.
I may learn that paying attention to which foot I enter a room with translates into “What energy am I bringing into this situation?”
Can Mind-fullness co-exist with Mindful-ness?
4 ~ (build up to) Practice Mindful-ness when it is More Challenging.
Sometimes, Mindful-ness is simply a matter of noticing how Mind-full I am, how many “plates” I’ve got spinning in any given moment ~ how far away I am from any kind of one-pointed attention.
Stop. Breathe. Step outside. Eat something, I’m way past starving.
Ultimately, Mindful-ness is actually a very pro-active state, it’s not passive at all. By approaching any given situation with an intention to pay attention and to let go of the editorializing, and by being Mindful of the environment around me, of where / how I place my things, of what energy I am sending our or receiving, I can really streamline my experience. The number of “plates” I am keeping in motion won’t change, but at least they won’t be dirty plates, they will be squeaky clean. There won’t be a bunch of time an energy spent searching for things, fixing things or apologizing for things. I can still be quite busy, Mind-fullness, but there will be less stress and more freedom and flexibility. So, yes, Mindful-ness and Mind-fullness can co-exist in a state of “both / and” when there is a balancing of focus ~ what is going on within and what is going on without.
In this way, being Mindful isn’t only a pause in the eye of the storm to savor the most delicious chocolate you’ve ever tasted or five minutes breathing in the perfume of the blooming spring flowers.
~ Invitation ~
How many things are you doing right now… and how many things are you paying attention to fully?
Where is your breath? Can you feel it? Can you deepen it?
How do you practice Mindfulness in you life?
(We’d love to hear. Let us know in a comment below!)
I am a wife and a mom, a yogi, an artist, and a writer… but not always in that order! I tend to think in collage and have trouble starting my day without coffee (black). I am a contemplative and a seeker on this wonderful, odd trip that is this human life. I love to have adventures and detest fences of any kind. Dedicated to my journal, I blog part-time at www.vignettesfrommylife.blogspot.com