Jennifer Ju, MD
Ifyoufeellikeyourmindisgoingamillionmilesaminuteandallyourthoughtsfeelmuddledandjumbledjustlikethissentence… then welcome to modern day society. If you have ever heard of mindfulness and thought, “No way, that is not for me. My mind is always busy, it’s always on the go”, then congratulations, you are a card carrying member of the human race. It is human nature for the mind to be thinking, planning, predicting, analyzing, and judging. The brain does all this, to try to keep you safe, by constantly surveying the environment for possible threats, and to learn from past and present experiences.
So, if your mind is always full, that is ok. It’s natural and is part of life, just like pain and change are a part of life. However, it is your relationship to your thoughts, as well as to pain, change, and all the circumstances that life throws at us, that determines how much we suffer. Perhaps there is no greater universal experience of suffering than the heightened sense of stress that seems to be a hallmark of modern day society.
Stress can be defined as anything that is a perceived threat- whether it be a threat to your health, relationships, wealth (job security), etc. Today’s society demands a lot of us- we need to have the perfect house, perfect bodies, make a lot of money (at least to keep up with your neighbors), send our kids to the best colleges and groom them to be top ranked athletes, make delicious, home cooked meals, packaged in trendy mason jars, go on exciting vacations, lose that baby weight instantly, and post carefully curated pictures, filtered and posed to perfection, where we are always living our best life. It’s no wonder we are so busy- we are constantly striving for impossible non-reality. I would be willing to bet that not long before Princess Kate Middleton made her first public appearance, with hair blown out, makeup perfectly applied, and wearing high heels, just hours after giving birth to her first child, for the love of god, she was as bleary eyed and disheveled as any mother who just gave birth.
What we see in Instagram is not necessarily reality. Pinterest is not gospel, let alone real life, at least for the majority of us. But, even though we may understand that, we are still in the tight grip of always striving. Striving in and of itself is not a bad thing, but our relationship to the striving affects our thoughts, feelings, and decisions, in a number of ways.
So, how do we change our relationship to our thoughts, and to pain, change, striving, and all the other things that carry us away from the present moment? In other words, how can we be mindful when our minds are full?
For those who can carve out time during the day, such as 20 minutes in the morning and/or evening, setting up a mindfulness practice can help set the tone for the day, and can help us relax and restore a sense of wellbeing at the end of the day. Setting up a daily practice also helps us be more prepared to respond versus react, when life throws unexpected obstacles our way.
Although formal practice is important, we will spend more time on that in a future article and focus now on ways to practice mindfulness “on the run”, for those of us who may feel too short on time to cram one more thing into our overscheduled days, and for those who already have a formal practice, and want to find ways to incorporate more mindfulness during the day.
The good news is that there is no “secret sauce”, no esoteric code of conduct that only monks or the truly enlightened are privy to. We can start with by simply paying attention to what we are doing, when we are doing it. No matter how busy we are, we all need to eat, drink, bathe, etc. Whenever we do these simple activities, try to tune into the experience. For example, when you wash your face, tune into the following experiences- What does the water feel like on your skin? What does the soap smell like? How does the water sound as it splashes against the sink? What do the soap bubbles look like as they are being rinsed away? Even something as simple as washing your face, when done in a mindful manner, can be a spa experience, if we are really tuned in to the experience.
You can also be mindful when you are eating. Consider taking a few moments before you start eating to take a couple deep breaths, leaving behind what you did moments before you sat down to eat, and focus on the present moment. Pause and think about all the steps that the food on your plate took to be part of the meal in front of you. For example, consider the lettuce in your salad and its journey to your table- from the planting of the seed, to the growing of the food, and the harvesting, packaging, and the delivery to the store, and then the process of you driving to the store, selecting it, and then driving home and preparing it. So many different hands and labor went into this food becoming the meal you are about to eat. Then, consider how lucky you are to have this food in front of you, to not experience hunger, while many people struggle daily with starvation and food insecurity all over the world, including perhaps people as close as your next-door neighbor. Take a moment to feel gratitude for the food in front of you, and then take the time to really experience the ritual of eating, using all the senses. Try to savor the experience, and view the act of eating as an act of self-care.
These are just a few tips to get you started on your journey to being more mindful when your mind is full. Future articles will explore additional ways to get the most of each day, moment by moment. So, start with these simple steps, and remember… it’s all about progress, not perfection.
Don’t forget to smile… and breathe…
Prior to Covid-19 several articles were being produced by board members of the Milford Education Foundation. As with many organizations, especially non-profits, many of our plans are on hold or will be seriously altered. As we are all hunkered down, we thought you would enjoy reading these, more to come…