mindfulness = “calling it like it is”

Welcome to Tuesdays with Chel.

“contemplation” – a mindful drawing I completed a few months ago

“Mindfulness calls it like it is, without embellishing our experience—not making it more dramatic or intense, nor pretending it’s easier than it is. If we’re sad, we’re sad. If we’re peaceful, we’re peaceful. When we are clear about our actual experience, we can be completely authentic. This authenticity is a basic component of a joyful life.”
-James Baraz

I spent the last 18 months doing a LOT of research and practice with the whole concept of “presence”.

There’s a concept in well-being called “mindfulness”. I first came across “mindfulness” while taking a class- it was said to be THE building block for well-being. The whole idea of honoring presence, or being mindful, didn’t sit with me at first. There are truly times when I just don’t *want* to be present, when I *want* to be lost in my thoughts, like when I’m doing laundry (a several-times-a-day task I don’t enjoy) or in pain or something like that. Getting lost in my thoughts is a way to escape the unpleasantness or boredom of certain situations.  And as someone who had some serious health stuff go on, the ability to lose myself in my thoughts became a skill that I cherished.

So, no, “tuning in” didn’t seem like a building block for bliss.

But the more I researched and read about mindfulness, the more I realized that it’s not about “sitting with your thoughts” or forcing yourself to feel every pinch of a needle or thoughtfully ponder every sock in the never-ending pile of laundry.

Instead, mindfulness is just about being totally honest about what’s going on RIGHT NOW. Not making up stories or attaching emotions (negative OR positive) to what’s going on, just observing the moment like a detached scientist. Taking stock. Observing.

For instance, right now I’m a little anxious- it’s late morning and I haven’t gone swimming yet. I’m writing this, so I’m thinking a bit about the class I took. I’m still in my pajamas, comfy but I’m itching to get into my bathing suit and go tend the garden and then swim. I’m a little irritated that I had so much to do this morning before I sat down to write this, but grateful I finished it all. I’m also feeling a tiny bit of good stuff related to the idea that I might get to sit down later and do some art journaling, which I know makes me happy. <— See? That’s it. That’s mindfulness.

For a long time I thought that mindfulness meant EMBRACING every single moment, appreciating it. That sounded not only exhausting, but incredibly superficial. My default (as you may have noticed) is not exactly set to “cheerful”. So greeting each moment with open arms and joy seemed incredibly fake to me. But mindfulness is not about that. It’s just about being an honest observer, taking it in, examining it, taking measure of the facts, good and bad. It’s not “this is a BEAUTIFUL amazing moment and I am so happy to be here for this beautiful moment of folding the sixth load of laundry today!” It is “I am bored with this task and so I’m choosing to think about ideas for a new art project instead.”

Anyway, after discovering the absolute truth of the moment, mindfulness becomes about being able to respond to it. If it’s a good moment or has some good stuff in it, I acknowledge that and let myself enjoy it. If not, I notice whatever comes up and let myself feel that. Even if it’s anger or sadness or frustration. So right now, with the itching to get outside, as soon as I am done writing this, I’m going to go and do just that. Instead of sitting here and letting the anxiety ramp up, by taking a second to be a little mindful I managed to figure out what was going on and decide on a solution. Pretty cool, when you think about it.

Mindfulness, being present, is about responding to the actual moment and all the things in it instead of *reacting* to my emotionally filtered version of that moment. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

After that, it’s about just letting go of the moment- good or bad- and knowing I was there fully for it. Because i took stock of the moment when I was folding laundry, I have a memory of it, and I know I was there for it.

Awareness *is* a process at first. It’s a challenge- trust me, I know this. After spending your life seeing everything through an emotional filter, which is what we do as humans (that’s how we evolved) it’s incredibly difficult to stop doing that. Some people just can (that strange group known as “easy going”) but most of us find it a whole new way of doing things and it’s like any other thing in life, we have to learn it.

“Besides enhancing your positive states of mind, when you pause to notice what you usually overlook, a new world opens to you. Whatever your experience is, you can hold it as a sacred moment of life worthy of your attention.”
– James Baraz

Chel Micheline is a mixed-media artist, curator, writer, and avid gardener/reader/swimmer who lives in Southwest Florida with her husband and daughter. When Chel’s not making art or pondering the Bliss Habits, she’s blogging at gingerblue.com (come say hi!) or posting new things in the gingerblue etsy shop.

8 thoughts on “mindfulness = “calling it like it is”

  1. Chel, I always love your take on these Bliss Habits! I, too, have harboured the misapprehension that to be mindful is to be enjoying every moment – even the less pleasant ones, so I’m liking the idea that I just have to be aware that they exist and move on. This is definitely something that I can begin to inorporate into my life (rather than being an immediately enlightened Zen Buddhist!)

    • Aw,, thank you! I think it’s all about awareness. Honest awareness. It’s scary because when I first encountered the idea of mindfulness, I assumed that all my awareness would be negative- I don’t exactly look at life with rose colored glasses and part of working through my life-long depression has been to NOT “dwell”. Mindfulness seemed to be directly opposing that approach. But as I gave it a try, I realized that things were a lot more POSITIVE than I assumed they might be. It was very enlightening! I also realized a lot of stuff I thought made me happy really made me quite grouchy.

  2. Oh you wise woman….so honest in your practice! Good heavens yes, that trying to “embrace” the moment can be EXHAUSTING! It’s almost funny how basic it is to just be with what is…and yet how, many times, it feels like one of the hardest things we can do. (I hope you found presence in your swim today too) 🙂 🙂

    • I have to remind myself that being mindful doesn’t mean MOVING INTO the moment, you know what I mean? Like when i am swimming- if I stayed mindful for the full 2.5 hours, I would go crazy. But I bring mindfulness to it as often as possible, and it really makes the experience that much more rich. I try and think of it as a practice of returning to awareness instead of trying to stay there all the time.

  3. ” discovering the absolute truth of the moment”…that is probably one of the very best definitions of mindfulness I’ve ever come across! And you spread the offering honesty, Chel, I always love that about you! Coming to a mindfulness practice is not easy. Seeing the moment as it really is can be pretty scary, shabby, messy or sad sometimes. By honoring where we are at any given time though, it can be a great release. When the heavier emotions come up, I’ve been trying to see it as an occasion to try something different. So if something has happened and my response is a feeling fear, I question the why behind it, and then see if I can turn it around. Not always easy, depending on circumstances, but it’s a practice. ;o)

    • Exactly! I don’t think mindfulness is about staying in the moment, consistently, because i don’t even think that’s humanly possible. I think it’s about the return to awareness, over and over, and what is discovered on that journey. I can be in the same circumstances and “dip in” by being mindful and not have a positive reaction to it, but five minutes later I’ll mindfully “dip in” again, and my response has changed. I sort of love that. I think there’s so much going on in life that our bodies and our brains are aware of and responding to that we don’t or *can’t* register. Mindfulness is a way of tapping into that, I think. (sorry if this sounds “woo woo”!)

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