Life The Sunday Experiment

February Focus – Mindfulness

Those of you following the Sunday Experiment know that I’ve been working at finding more balance in my life. After wading my way through two years of near-constant work, it was past time.

Even though I’m only a month into what’s morphed from a simple New Year’s resolution into a year-long project, I can already see that this experiment will probably save my sanity. The scariest thing of all has been realizing how quickly everything can become out of control — and how easy it is to tell ourselves the crazy, hectic lives we lead are NORMAL.

But it doesn’t have to be, and I’m determined to take back my life. In January, I concentrated on taking one day a week off. And when I say off, I mean OFF. No work, no email (not even to peek at my Inbox!), no Facebook, no Twitter, no computer. It sounded like a reasonable goal, but if you’ve been following my Sunday Experiment posts, you know it’s been surprisingly difficult to really take a break. Not because of outside forces, but because I have forgotten how to relax.

I am my own worst enemy. Even as I’ve given myself permission to take one day off a week, my brain will not SHUT UP. It is next to impossible to flip through a magazine, read a book, or watch a movie without a constant stream of thought in my head. And I realized that when this little voice is playing, it’s usually not even to expand on what I’m doing at any given moment. It’s to think about things that happened yesterday (or last month), to contemplate what I’ll do the next day when I go back to work, to strategize mentally about my career, sometimes projecting myself a year or more into the future.

I started thinking about it and realized this is a problem of mindfulness. Not surprisingly, mindfulness is a core tent of Buddhism, a philosophy that rings more and more true for me every day. In Buddhism we’re instructed to set aside thoughts of yesterday and worries of tomorrow to be fully present in the moment.

What IS surprising is that this idea mimics another, more businesslike concept; compartmentalization. When I worked in an office, one of my bosses once commented how good I was at compartmentalizing. I had four kids at home (all of them under the age of eight). I worked through an entire pregnancy in a male-dominated field and didn’t tell anyone until I was four months along, even though I suffered from crippling morning sickness and had to drive with my boss to innumerable client meetings pretending to be fine. It didn’t matter if I’d had a fight with my then-husband or if I’d been up late with a sick baby, every morning I got up, went to the gym, and showed up to work with a smile.

And my boss was right; compartmentalization was key. When I was at work, I couldn’t afford to think about what was happening at home, if I was missing something, if the kids were okay. My time at home was precious, making it easier to set aside problems of work for the few hours a day I actually got to enjoy my family.

I like to think that mindfulness is a kinder, gentler form of compartmentalization. It’s something we should learn in the spirit of being more fully present in every moment rather than something we do to “deal with” the extraordinary demands of life gone crazy.

And it’s surprisingly hard.

Even though I’ve actively practiced mindfulness in the past, it is HARD to be in the moment. The mind is unruly child. It wants to watch TV, eat junk, and stay up late when what it really needs is silence, healthy food, and a solid eight hours of sleep.

But this month, I’m really working on it. Because a day off – or a month or a year – isn’t going to do me any good if I can’t turn off the noise and really be in a given moment. So in February, my goal is to be PRESENT. It’s to really feel the steering wheel under my hands when I drive, really notice the beauty of the snow-covered fields around me. It’s to LISTEN to my children when they talk to me instead of thinking about what I have to do when they’re done. It’s to enjoy the feel of the wooden spoon in my hand when I’m stirring this week’s batch of homemade soup, to smell the rosemary and sage, to really take in the feeling of comfort it all brings.

Sounds easy, right? I’m betting it won’t be at first, but like everything with the Sunday Experiment, I think it will pay off in spades.

What about you? Do you find it’s difficult to really be in the moment in this crazy world? Is it something you notice? Ir is it just a way of life at this point?

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