Hey-O, Ms Kate. How about a break from food? Let’s, instead, talk about the brain. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m going to talk about MY brain and its habits. The authors of The Mindful Way Through Depression are kind enough to call what I do excessive thinking. My shrink calls it anxiety. I call it a complete shit-storm in my head.
I assume it’s connected to my desire to be writing at all times, but I have lots of words in my head. Words and sentences and paragraphs and stories. There is always conversation going on, usually with no one in particular. My brain is like the drunk girl at the party who won’t shut up and I’m trying to tactfully slip away so I can go sit in the restroom to get some peace and quiet. (Wow. I googled “drunk girl” here to insert an eye-catching image for the post and instead of doing that, I will only be thankful that phone-cameras and the Internet were not so prevalent when I was in high school and college.)
The excessive thinking is different than my bouts with depression. It’s more consistent and energetic and loud. When depression comes, the chatter quiets down and gets more harsh and negative, but it’s still there. I don’t have depression without the chatter, but I can have chatter without depression. It’s like the way a square is always a rectangle, but a rectangle isn’t always a square. (I think.) There is always some problem (big, small, real, imaginary) that my mind is trying to figure out, a new thing it wants to try, ideas for writing, for decorating, for mothering. Over the years I’ve managed the excessive thinking in different ways: I used to let it dictate my moods and emotions and decisions; I subdued it with medication; I tried to run or tae-bo it out with Billy Banks. Now, I’m practicing mindfulness. (Unless I’ve gone several nights without sleep: then I go back to the meds.)
So, Chris and I have been meditating every morning since October-ish. For several years now, after daylight savings in the fall, we’ve vowed to use the extra wake-up time to establish a meditation routine. It usually lasts for a couple weeks at most, and then we peter-out and the kids take over the meditation cushions and they get streaked with dried snot, food crumbs, and dusty footprints. Then, the next fall, I wash them, set them up in a clutter-free space, tell the kids not to wipe their noses, eat, or wrestle on them, and we start it all over. This year, though, we’ve actually made it this far (5 months?) meditating every morning except for weekends and over Christmas break.
It helped to start slow: we began with 10 minutes every morning and stuck with that for weeks. We gradually increased by only a minute at a time and this morning (Feb. 8) was the first morning we were going to get to our “goal” time of 20 minutes when Sola rolled out of bed early holding a diaper with poop in it, saying she needed to finish in the potty. By the time she was done and wiped clean, the boys were awake, half-dressed and swinging on the familial-pendulum between fighting and laughing, so we set ALL of them up with a video in bed and were down to 15 minutes before we had to start getting ready for school.
(I guess my point with that story is that we still haven’t made it to 20 minutes. Maybe tomorrow.)
It also helps to have the accountability partner. Before this stretch, we didn’t really want to depend on one another to meditate. (Plus, it just sounds a little cheesy to say you and your partner “meditate together.”) But, when the alarm goes off, it just helps knowing that you’re not getting up in the dark alone. And we focus on the breath in Zen meditation becasue, not only is it one constant we always have with us, but it helps cultivate compassion, as all living beings share the breath. Being aware of someone sitting next to me, sharing the breath, helps me take my ego and desires out of the equation: that nagging thought that I don’t want to get out of bed doesn’t matter as much when I’m reminded that it’s not just me doing it.
So, anyway, this blog has really messed with my mindfulness practice. Because I used to have plain-old-fashioned monkey-mind, which is difficult enough. But now, there is another monkey, the blog monkey, swinging on the branches in my mind. It sounds like this:
(inhale) Be mindful of the breath,
(exhale) as it connects all life.
(inhale) Like this plant next to me:
(exhale) it’s a living being, existing in the same space as me.
(inhale) It kind of looks like it needs to be watered, though. In fact, it looks like it’s totally dying. I wish my mom lived near us. She was so good about watering my plants. And helping with the kids. I can’t believe we moved away from so much help with the kids. But then again, it’s February and sunny and 60 degrees every day. That’s gotta count for something. Everyone in Kansas is probably cold right now. I wonder if it’s snowed there yet. Wait! What am I doing? I”m supposed to notice that these thoughts are passing. I’m supposed to notice and then bring my awareness back to my breath! Breathe! Breathe!
(inhale) Be mindful of the breath,
(exhale) as it connects all life.
(inhale) I do need to water the plants when I’m done, though.
(exhale) And they would look a LOT better in the white planters I saw at Ikea. Maybe I can go to Ikea today. But I have to write a blog entry first. We don’t get any traffic unless we have new posts. Ah, sod it, all. I’m going to write a blog entry about thinking about writing blog entries.
And on and on.
I will say, though, despite feeling like I haven’t made much “progress,” in the way of mindfulness, I have little (tiny) (miniscule) breakthroughs every once in while. I figure it can’t hurt to sit quietly once a day and watch my thoughts. The most important thing I’ve learned thus far is that my thoughts are just thoughts. They are not Truths. They are not Reality. They are no The Boss. They are just my thoughts. When I watch them pass like clouds in the sky, I see them as fleeting and inconsistent as they really are.
And I love mulling on the closing ritual I have when the iPhone timer (used by Buddhist monks everywhere) tells us we’re done. There is a little story in the back of Zen Shorts, a children’s book we have by Jon Muth. He writes, When you look into a pool of water, if the water is still, you can see the moon reflected. If the water is agitated, the moon is fragmented and scattered. It is harder to see the true moon. Our minds are like that. When our minds are agitated, we cannot see the true world.
With my hands in prayer position, I touch my thumbs to my forehead and remember, I seek to see the true moon reflected in still water.
I touch my thumbs to my lips and remember, Words are powerful. I will speak with compassion to others, especially the ones who make it difficult to do so. (Depending on the day, this usually my kids, my husband, or the landlord.)
Finally, I touch my thumbs to my chest and remember, I will also find compassion for the one who’s most difficult to find it for: myself.
And with that, the day begins.