We live in a time where the world is at our fingertips, and we can access any information we need within seconds. As we all know well, this is both a blessing and a curse as we journey on a path focused on self-care, self-healing, and self-awareness. Because we can access so many forms of entertainment and information all the time, we tend to overload ourselves with content. I know there are times when I find myself scrolling on my phone, watching TV, writing a blog post on my laptop, and picking out a recipe to cook later. Obviously I am not able to focus on any one thing for very long, and I just alternate my attention between all these objects for a good while before I’m able to get anything done. Then, when I really need to focus, all my mind wants to do is wander. I read recently that the average office worker can only focus on one task for 3 minutes at a time. That feels like it would be true for me.
So, when we think about practicing self-care, we often go to things we do that make us feel like we are actively caring for ourselves and our bodies. My mind goes straight to taking a bath, lighting my favorite candle, or even doing a sweaty yoga sesh to get the body moving and release those sweet sweet endorphins. But what about the rest of the day, or the rest of the week? Sometimes it’s really hard to find time to slow down and take the time to focus on one thing- even if it is the most important thing: your wellbeing and your mental state. After all, we cannot go out into the world with unlimited love, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness if we have not taken the time to fill our own well. You cannot give what doesn’t exist in yourself. No wonder we snap at others, feel forgetful and scattered, seem exhausted, restless, anxious, etc…
Even the most spiritually-minded, connected people can find themselves out of time, out of energy, out of motivation. Sometimes the only thing a person can do is turn on Good Girls and fall asleep on the couch with a TV dinner. We are all at least a little bit human. It’s in our nature.
All this to say, even though the weight of the world can get the best of us from time to time, it’s worth examining our days with a gentle curiosity. What can I do more mindfully? Notice that I’m not suggesting we ask ourselves "what can I do better," rather "what can I do with more purpose and focused attention?"
You’ve likely heard this word over and over again in wellness-related conversations, self-help books, and woven throughout your favorite meditation app.
What does mindfulness mean to you?
In your own words, in your own world, in your own mind… Is it the time you spend in the morning before you check your phone? Is it the way you check your phone that you are mindful of? Maybe you tell yourself “okay, I’m going to open up Instagram now, and even though I know I am immediately going to see all the cool things my ex is doing I will not let that turn into ruminating thoughts about how I will never be enough and if only I could afford a vacation…”
Maybe you’ve had a similar dialogue with yourself while you check your work email.
“Okay, I’m going to check my email now, and even if Henrietta emailed me something rude and useless I will not let that stir anger in my heart.”
It’s certainly valuable to have this inner-conversation with ourselves, as it allows us to be the gatekeeper of our own thoughts. Noticing when something causes an ugly thought, then maybe letting the thought pass by with a few deep breaths, not allowing it to give birth to any other ugly thoughts, and ultimately saving yourself from a bottomless well of resentment towards someone or some situation that is out of your control. Clearly, I am speaking from experience here.
Maybe at this point, you’re having some doubts about the effectiveness of this practice. Like, what about the stuff that you see and it zaps you with electricity?
You know, like before your brain even gets to process a thought, your solar plexus is on fire, or your skin tingles, you start sweating, your eyes begin watering without so much as a second to process what is coming up for you.
It’s an incredible thing, to not have any conscious control over our body’s response to outer stimuli. This has been the focus of my heartfelt interest in trauma-sensitive mindfulness, and the ways we can regain some feeling of control- or at the very least- understanding about what and how and why our body seems to want to make us feel every emotion or thought we have bouncing around in our beautiful nervous system.
I’m sure you have heard plenty about the body’s fight/flight/freeze response from people far more qualified to explain it than me, but it is an essential part of this conversation about mind-body connection and response to the living world. By looking at the evolution of people as a species, we are able to see that this bodily response originated as a coping mechanism to warn us if we were in danger in our environment. It is a physical reaction to dangerous stimuli. Does that mean it makes sense all the time? Not really.
Seeing a stressful work email after hours should not elicit the same physical reaction as being stalked by a tiger in the jungle, but for some of us that’s really how it feels. Our body is basically saying “Get out! Run! Hide!” Sometimes it’s “Find something pointy and attack!”
These are the thoughts that send electricity from our brain down into our nerves and all throughout our body.
Either way, it’s not entirely helpful when the tiger is Henrietta and the pointy thing is a snarky email reply.
If I lost you with that analogy, don’t worry about it. We can dive more into fight/flight/freeze another time.
All this to say, it is worth examining what we do and how we do it through the lens of mindfulness with an awareness around what makes us feel that electric pulse of “no thanks, please don’t.”
This is an invitation to be incredibly gentle with yourself as you move through your day, especially if you’re feeling low, sensitive, unmotivated, or like you don’t have any control over your own thoughts. I promise you from the bottom of my on-the-mend heart, you’re not alone. There are so many of us who move through this life holding on to these triggers, these bad feelings, this depression, this insomnia, these addictions, feeling like this is just who I am.
I am with you, I am holding you dearly in my heart because I think you’ll see that we have more in common than we realize. Similar stories, similar pain, similar coping mechanisms and self-deprecating jokes. We are all in this together, really. Even those people who said those things to us and made us feel like we never deserved to be whole in the first place. They are coming from a broken, insecure, electrified place too. They planted the seed in us that other people have control of the ON/OFF switch, and whenever they feel like it, they can send 1000 volts straight to our heart in seconds.
The work is realizing we cannot destroy the switch, but we can eliminate the phantom person or story that holds it captive in our minds. We can see when the next wave is coming on, and maybe one day even reroute the electric shock. Maybe one day instead of 1000 volts, it's more of a zap, and then maybe one day it’s just the memory of a zap. Maybe one day we will come to a point that we hold the zap fondly in the palm of our hand and say “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I’ve got it from here.”
So this is a commitment to you, and to myself, that I won’t give up on the work. And I won’t stop being curious. I devote myself to the practice of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, and living in love.