Saturday, July 02, 2011

Are You Mindful? I'm Not...But I Should Be

As always, I cover about 4 things at once in each post.

First, as an anniversary gift, Hubby got me a Kindle. It's the WiFi one, and knowing him, it probably does about 6 other things that'll take me a year to figure out.

So I loaded about 9 or 10 books on it, including some freebies (I'm good with freebies). I've finished 3 books, which isn't unusual because I read like others breathe, and this is just a good way to take the books with me. I'm probably going to be doing more travel in the next few years; I'm president of our local Zonta Club (go here to look at what Zonta does: and I'm also involved on a multi-state level, so it'll be easier to haul the Kindle than it will the books I travel with.

When I first contemplated the Kindle, I said, "I'd get it and load all my reference books on it, making another shelf or two in my office for 'real' books." Well, I find that my much-thumbed reference books are just fine on their own. I can find stuff in my Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) quicker than I can even find it in THEIR online edition! I have the 16th edition, just haven't tabbed it yet.

So I'm reading a new book now, The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk. My yoga teacher has read us several of his books. We do a yin practice, which means we hold poses for a long time; in our class, it's only 5 minutes, but in some practices, it can be 10 or more minutes. Well, you need to concentrate on your breath while you're doing that, but our teacher also uses readings to center us on our mats. That way, while in Dragon (a lunge I particularly dislike) or Saddle (also one of my "not very favorite" poses), you glom onto her words, and these words usually remind you why you're there in the first place!

Anyway, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote this particular book - but it's mainly a long letter. And while the whole book talks about "mindfulness," I found some of it particularly interesting especially in our multi-tasking society.

If you're not doing 8 things at once, apparently, you're really not "living in the moment" - or so says popular wisdom. Thich Nhat Hanh turns that idea inside out, and I rather like what he's saying.

Here's a quote: "When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you're drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. When you're using the toilet, let that be the most important thing in your life."

OK, stop giggling and think about it for a minute. Seriously. How many times a day do you have one thing going on on the computer screen, a cell phone vibrating, a colleague at your door, a report open on your desk, and what're you thinking about? "What will I do for dinner? What are the things the kids need when I get home? What about that meeting for next week?"

It's not that we are being told to not plan ahead. In our society, we really need to plan our work, etc. But this passage really took hold for me after a conversation with my mother. She said she wanted us kids to "spontaneously come visit" ... and I said to her, "The only 'spontaneous' thing that happens in my house are bathroom calls..." and sadly, that's true. My life, even now with grown kids, is circumscribed, and there's very little spontaneity in my schedule.

That's sad, isn't it?

Taking what Thich Nhat Hanh said, then, we sort of come full circle. I'm feeling like I'm having ADD over everything. When I'm reading, I need to check e-mails. When I'm knitting, I feel like I have to have the television on. When I'm talking to Hubby, I need to have a magazine in my hand.

The book says: "Each act must be carried out in mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony." Of course, he's talking of monks in a monastery, but how can we translate that to our own lives?

Personally, I can stop having seven things going on at once. When I knit, I should knit. When I'm eating, it should be at a table and not in front of the television set (which will also do my diet a world of good!!). When I'm checking e-mails, do I have to respond in Pavlovian fashion each time the computer dings? Probably not. In fact, definitely not!

My yoga teacher is always talking to us about mindfulness. We had a class on that. We took 3 raisins. Held them in our hand. And then put ONE RAISIN in our mouth. And then just let it sit there. Feeling the "raisin-ness" of it. Yeah, go ahead, think that's maybe a little out there, but consider this: It's like those diets that tell you to chew your food 25 times.

Have you ever tried to chew ONE RAISIN 25 times? The point of this exercise was to make us think about food, instead of shoving it mindlessly into our mouths because the clock said it was lunchtime. Or because we were bored. Or because the craving we had for "food" was actually "thirst" and water would've sufficed.

I think "thirst" is a good word here, too. We "thirst" for time. We "thirst" to manage everything in our lives and we've been seduced into thinking that by doing 6 things at once, we are doing that. But we're not. I find now that I have less time to do the things I need to get done. And then I wonder: Do I "need" to do this stuff, or is it my own attempt at managing everything?

I don't advocate a monastic existence. It's not where I'm at right now. And it may never be.

But this book has given me something to think about. It's a little volume, so if you're in the bookstore or you have an e-reader, download it and just read through it. It'll certainly give you something to contemplate, and that may not be a bad thing. Particularly if you turn everything else off and devote a little quiet time to what he's saying.

Take a moment, especially since it's summer, to lay on the grass and look up at the clouds. And breathe. In. Out. Repeat.

It can only do you good.

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