My roommate and I used to spend hours talking, frustrated at the world, angry with society, fed up with the lack of connection in our world. We wondered how people let the world simply float by them and how people found their need for connection filled with media and technology. It simply didn’t make sense!
It wasn’t until one of us stumbled upon Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are that we discovered we were not only alone in our thinking, but there was actually a name for what we were longing for – mindfulness.
On top of that, this book, this philosophy of mindfulness did more than simply name a solution – it gave voice to a solution that could be practiced.
Excited, I read the book and thought Kabat-Zinn was bringing up a nice concept. I wanted to be aware. I wanted to be present. I wanted to enjoy and cherish small things. I wanted to be non-judgmental about my thoughts, feelings and experiences – but I still had anxiety that constantly asked ‘what if’?
I had a disease that could steal the small pieces of myself I cherished and enjoyed.
I was a new step-mom learning to live with three new human presences in my life.
I had a job with real and constant insecurity.
I knew and was aware of all that was in my life, but I didn’t know how to accept it – much less let it be, enjoy it or avoid judging it.
I was too caught up in the what-ifs, constantly swept away by what might happen to notice what really was right there in front of me. My mind was constantly asking questions like:
What if I can’t run 20 miles?
What if I wake up and can’t feel my body?
What if I ruin the boys’ lives?
What if they hate me?
What if I quit and have to work at Wal-Mart?
What if, what if, what if. It consumed me to the point of letting the world float by, missing out on the life right in front of me, often truly disconnected. So, instead of adopting some of the solution, I continued in my ways, wishing away my moments, wishing for enjoyment, wishing for non-judgment, wishing for acceptance, wishing the what-ifs would just float away.
Mindfulness didn’t come up again until I started health coaching. Our instructors asked us to join them in meditation – for 10 to 15 minutes – and it felt like it would never end! Again, the idea was nice, but my brain would not stop, the what-ifs and what am I doing’s popped in again and again. I had all but decided this mindfulness idea was just not for me.
But, it kept coming up, they kept asking us to meditate, and I kept trying. When I left, I wanted to pay attention, I wanted to be more present, I wanted to try out this thing called mindfulness.
I quit making excuses for why I couldn’t see and tried opening my eyes to see what was. I tried to notice more. I tried to listen more. I tried to see more.
I tried to become more intentional about what I verbalized. I tried to think before I responded to others around me.
Then, things gradually started to change. And I quit saying I was trying and I just started doing.
I started hearing what the boys said – both in their words and actions.
I started seeing my students as people again. I started engaging with my students in real conversations.
I started sharing.
I started meditating while stretching.
I started listening to the birds while I ran.
I starting thinking before I spoke.
I started pausing before picking up the phone.
I started writing again.
I started living and doing with an open mind, open heart and open eyes.
Then, chaos came. Just as I thought I was getting the hang of it! My husband had to head out of town. Twin lambs were born on the farm. I was working full time, training for a marathon and taking classes. The boys were in school, soccer and scouts. The what-ifs started coming back.
What if someone gets sick?
What if the lambs die?
What if the boys need me and I’m at work?
What if I can’t get my runs in?
What if I can’t go to the marathon?
What if I get too tired?
I was a wreck. But, I also managed to keep doing somethings.
I kept noticing.
I kept appreciating.
I kept moving.
I kept stopping to feel my breath.
I kept trusting everyone could handle whatever outcome came our way.
The more I kept doing, the less I kept trying to change what was happening, the less I started imagining possible futures, the less I held on to moments that had passed.
I finally just gave in to the chaos. I knew I couldn’t fix or control a thing and I nor anyone else had any idea what might happen. I chose to accept my reality – the good, the hard, the ever-changing reality that is this life. And this acceptance started to stick. This mindful way of interacting with my reality – however unpleasant, uncertain, enjoyable or certain – it simply is.
Through all of this, I started to learn the truth of mindfulness. Mindfulness is non-judgmental acceptance of each moment. Once I realized this idea called mindfulness didn’t mean I never would worry again or that things would never be hard or that I always had to always see only positive things in my life, I started doing it.
Mindfulness is all about accepting our world – others and ourselves – at face value, in each moment. Not pulled to the past, present, future possibilities or irrational outcomes. Just what is. And with whatever comes next, we’re there, accepting what is with our full being, not trying to change what can’t be changed, not trying to control what hasn’t happened.
Simply being in each moment as it happens.
I still worry. I still ask what if. I still have anxiety. I still have a disease. I’m still learning to be stepmom. I still have a job full of uncertainty. Now, though, I notice. I take a minute. I settle. I ask myself if my thinking is allowing me to fully and non-judgmentally experience my reality.
When the worry pops up, I’m able to trust what is and live – because my only concern is with what is right in front of me at any given moment. What comes next will be experienced in the next moment.
If I’m already in the future, I’ll miss it when it comes. If I’m stuck in the past, I’ll miss the present. If I’m in the present, I’ll catch it all.
Not what if.
Not free of anxiety.
Simply what is.
For it is perfect in each moment
And we’re free from the pressure of past and future moments.
This, my friends, is mindfulness.
*Originally written in 2018. I have since continued on my formal mindfulness journey and completed a mindfulness facilitation course through the Osher Center at Vanderbilt University.*