I graduated in December 2010, and I have been in a mild state of limbo since the new year started. I have a great part-time job, so I'm not rushed to find new/additional work yet. I'm swamped with our upcoming play and other W.E.L.L. goals and tasks, and I'm trying to re-integrate family and friends back into my life, after the long isolation of my final semester. In this busy-yet-relaxed place, I'm also trying to come back to my healthy coping skills-some of which I neglected in favor of readings and study sessions. I started to learn mindfulness when I started to heal, in the fall of 2004, though I didn't call it mindfulness then. As a woman with diagnosed with PTSD (and a variety of other likely side issues), I labeled it as “grounding”. I spent hours in my aunt's backyard watering her flowers. I could smell the wet dirt, taste the dry air on my lips, hear the water splash gently on the flowerbeds and the pavement between as I moved the hose along. The sky was a pale blue, and with the California climate, few clouds filtered the strong rays of sunshine. I would hear the jingle of tags on the dog's collars, as they came out threw the dog door to make sure I wasn't having any food without them. I remember that minute, the exact weight of my breath as I shuddered filling my lungs, being slightly startled that it wasn't a smooth, easy breath. That was my first taste of mindfulness. I was in that minute, not thinking of the past or future; just being in that exact moment as it happened. I was grounded in my reality. I was really and truly there.
This has been a skill I've honed in on over the years. It wasn't introduced to me as “mindfulness” until I took a class in DBT skills, where we spent two weeks on mindfulness. We worked on things like suspending our tenancies to judge, and how to center ourselves in the moment, as it happened. We worked on different exercises. For example: Imagine all your thoughts are on a conveyer belt in front of you, moving along at a slow speed. Witness each thought, but don't judge anything-it's not good, it's not bad, it just is. To be more specific, in my mind I would see on the conveyer belt clear boxes, each with a sentence facing me, representing a thought. One would read “This is a dumb exercise.” Another might say “I'm hungry. Can I afford to go out after this group?” Or, “I miss my sister.” Instead of going through, like I normally would do, and throwing out the first thought, because it was rude or impatient, I just watched it pass. It is what it is. I thought it, and then it was over. It didn't make me rude or polite, it didn't make me bad or good, it just was a thought I had. I accepted it, and moved to my next thought.
I'm writing about this today because I don't think mindfulness is a very promoted idea, and I think that people-women specifically-can really benefit from this practice. If every morning I could tune into my senses, and figure out if I needed to feel warm and snuggled that morning, I could always take my favorite sweater along. Or if I had the presence of mind to know I felt independent and sexy, I could have my dangling earrings ready to go. I could center into myself each morning to the point that my very clothing met me on an intimate level. Then, if I later encountered a difficult moment: something I'd forgotten to do at work, or a sad memory or sight, I could channel into that cozy sweater or those empowering earrings, and lift myself back upright. In a society where what we look like matters so much, I rarely find myself basing what I look like on my needs. Instead I think about my shoes matching my belt, and trying to recall what my sister said about bracelets or proper cleavage. We, as women, run around doing jobs, housework, and being super moms (if a mother misses a baseball game she's awful, if a father makes it to a game he's a saint-but that's another issue) that we forget to nourish ourselves within first. It's like a plane crash: if you don't put on your own mask first, you may pass out putting on others' masks around you.
It's a wonder to me that more women don't colapse in their crazy, day-to-day lives. I think that is because we're not mindful. If I had been mindful before I started healing, I would not have been able to survive. If I'd really stopped and looked around me, I would have lost it. But now, having the safety to be mindful if I choose to, I can't stop myself from being present. It is so fantastic to feel your chest rise and fall without any effort, all day long. I never think to myself , “Ok, Brit, now you've got to exhale. Now inhale. Good job! Once more.” It just happens. My body is so amazing that is just knows what to do, and then does it. I take extra time picking my pants in the morning, because it is such a good feeling to wear baggy overalls and feel my recently-shaved legs brush against the rough denim. It is a great feeling to taste my lunch, even if it's not my favorite food-I can taste the cheese against the bread, and I can tell what flavor belongs to what texture, and it's incredible.
If we could pass this on, this freedom to be in the moment, I think we'd be happier. It takes practice, but there's no one judging you, so you can fall and try again. No one is going back through your thoughts or actions and correcting you. It's only you inside your head, and you can learn to be gentle and loving to yourself.
I was at Barnes and Noble last night, reading books in the kid's section (as I am likely to do when in a bookstore). I found a book called The Three Questions, and it was about a little boy and his journey to find his answers in mindfulness. I cannot imagine a better time to be mindful than when you're a child. To really feel the freedom of a swing-set, to feel the pang in your side from running too fast and far, to feel your stomach ache from heavy laughing fits with friends. All this can be ours, too. We, as women, can tune into this quiet and powerful station, and fill our lives with just that: quiet power. We'll be full of our own living, feeling and experiencing. We'll be tuned into our own glorious selves.
You've worth paying close attention to. Take a moment today to pay that attention to yourself-with a walk around the block, a bubble bath, a song from your favorite CD, a to-go appetizer from your favorite restaurant, that comfy sweater or those empowering earrings. Do something for you, and be there when it happens. You deserve good things. So, go get some! :-)
For more on the topic of mindfulness, check out these books:
The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth
Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook by Matthew McKay