How many times have you heard the idiom, “ Get me off of this merry-go-round!”?
It’s an expression that conjures up a familiar, commonly shared image of someone “mindlessly” attempting to run faster than their legs can carry them; often but not always, directed by someone other than the person who is doing the real running. Around and around we go, doing, doing, doing; believing we don’t have a choice and resenting the demands placed on our time that keep us from doing what we think we would “rather” be doing.
One mother complains, “I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom.” A college student says, “It’s like being in prison; my time is not my own; if I’m not studying, I’m working, and if I’m not working, I’m studying.” A grandfather says, “I want to write my family history, but my kids count on me to babysit my grandchildren; by the time they go home I’m too tired to do anything for myself.” Another woman feels hopeless as she tries to complete her self-imposed checklist that even a super hero would have difficulty with.
To be perfectly honest, when I hear these and similar comments, I always encourage people to take time for themselves. It’s the best investment that can be made, because the dividends are so high. A person who takes care of his or her needs will be more effective in whatever they pursue. However, having said that, it is true that life demands much of us. There will be times despite our best efforts when we simply cannot eek out any time for ourselves. What is a person to do?
The practice of “Mindfulness” is one solution whose benefits far surpass a momentary ticket off the merry-go-round. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as: “… paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” In other words, it may not be what we are doing, but how we are doing it, that determines who is manning the merry-go-round, and if it really is a merry-go-round.
What does Jon Kabat-Zinn mean by a “particular way?” When I explain mindfulness to my clients I suggest it means to look at something, as if you have never seen anything like it before. Outside of my office window stands a beautiful tree.
I tell people to “Imagine they are aliens on a ‘Sunday Drive’; destination planet Earth. Upon arrival, they land their vehicle at the foot of the tree.” I tell them they don’t have trees on their planet, so they are viewing a tree for the very first time.” We talk about the difference between looking at something for the first time, and seeing something they have looked at thousands of times before.
If you have ever seen a baby engrossed in an object, you will recognize what is called, “Beginners Mind.” Have you ever longed to be mesmerized once again by the simple things of life? Mindfulness is just that. It is the practice of leaving the past in the past, and the future to unfold in its’ due time. It is being completely in the here and now, observing “what is,” without judgment, and with an attitude of awe, which allows you to discover the miracles that are only present in the current moment.
The beauty of mindfulness is that you can welcome it in any moment. Even moments with heavy demands, such as: caring for children, doing chores, and yes, even studying, or working. The power in mindfulness lies in its’ ability to release the heaviness of the past, and fears about the future. It allows you to distinguish between what is real and what is not. It is the pathway to wisdom, and enables a person to respond and not react. Being responsible for only “this moment,” is soothing to a burdened mind, and in reality, is the only moment you have any control over. You can’t re-write the past, and the future is only a fantasy. Truthfully, if you live each moment well in the here and now, those moments become your past, and you will be transported into the future with your eyes wide open, making choices based in reality and as a result, in your best interest. Take a minute to consider all the possible ways this kind of attention could improve the quality of your life.
Historically, mindfulness was an Eastern practice, primarily exercised by Buddhists. In the 1960’s it appeared in the United States in the form of “Transcendental Mediation,” and was thought to be practiced only by hippies and the counter-culture. But, in the past thirty years much research has been compiled to prove the benefits of mindfulness meditation; carrying it from mysterious mind-play, to mainstream credible practice endorsed by the National Institute of Health. Please take a look at this short article : http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/Jan2012/Feature2
When you find yourself on the merry-go-round of life, quit chasing your tail and make your exit by bringing your attention into the here and now. Marsha Linehan, LCSW,PH.D has said, “In the present moment, everything is, as it should be.” These are very wise words indeed.