Mindfulness is trending. If you pop over to the magazine section of my local Chapters, there are a dozen publications on the topic, all giving us the skinny fry on how to salt and pepper our lives with Zen.
Mindfulness, as it has been cultivated and reinvented by Western society, is about how to put the brakes on all of our crazy overachieving, overdoing, overthinking, over-driving, fast moving, rapid consuming ways —and the greater the demand on us, the bigger the fix we crave— to sneak in a little peace, a solid tribute to bird watching and rose smelling. Why? Because, as it turns out, we are starting to WORRY about all of that over worrying we are so good at, and which we suspect is at the heart of our super, extra secret-saucy mental health issues. The epidemic ones especially, the home grown, lifestyle generated kind, rather than the rare genetic loophole that got passed down from great great Uncle Alfred’s wild night with the village witch under the thirteenth blood-moon circa 1867 (no disrespect to witches). Culturally we are being encouraged to get on the mental treadmill, and sort ourselves out before some shit hits the high speed, turbo fan.
The M movement has for Westerners become synonymous with “present moment awareness”, and for those of you who aren’t familiar or who need a refresher on that one, I invite you in this moment to stop, take a deep breath in (don’t you feel yourself relaxing already), and turn your attention to a sound in your environment; a bird chirping a happy little song, the rumble of a car engine driving by, the hum of your neighbour’s lawn mower, a dog barking. Try not to judge the sounds you hear as good or bad, (that asshole —it’s not even 8 am, omg I have to cut my lawn already, if I only had a bb gun, birds are good) just observe, and if you have thoughts, allow your thoughts to float peacefully by, returning either to your sound, or to your deep, rhythmic breathing. TADA! You are better!
Forgive me, I am not trying to belittle the movement. In, fact, I felt a moment of calm just telling you to take a deep breath, even facetiously. But I am here to try to give you a little more than a mental celery stick on the side of your deep fried brain.
Mindfulness derives from Buddhism, and was not intended to go out on its own and strike up an independent practice. For it to truly “work” beyond a stress management tool, one needs to be undoing the mechanism of pain and suffering that underlies the busy mind. Does it help, alone, in a Cosmo’s top ten tricks to tame your brain type of way? Sure. Is it better than nothing? Sometimes, depending on how it’s packaged. Have you ever ordered one of those sad little side salads of wilted ice berg lettuce that has been sprayed with 101 chemicals to keep it from rotting and is contained in Styrofoam and lidded with a bubble of hard plastic, and somewhere inside you a flower of hope wilts because you feel that this isn’t really healthy living, and yet it took so much freaking resolve just to get this close to a vegetable? Well, even the smaller “quick fix” health benefits that come from managing stress responses, can have costs when we place them in service of ego, so instead of helping us they fall onto the ever expanding “to do” list. Practice wellness. Meditate for 5 mins daily. Listen to bird chirping. Make time to stop and smell roses. Or, contrarily, you did your 5 mins go you, now you can indulge in a big fat STRESS burger for the rest of the day.
I talk a lot about those practices, thoughts and ideas that contribute to an adversarial relationship with the self. They don’t work. You can’t fight yourself and win. Sit with that one. You can’t fight yourself, and win.
Fighting ourselves enervates and saps creativity, well-being, and joy.
And it’s intricately interwoven into what I call the pain and suffering cycle, this self bullying, the reason we need mindfulness in the first place. I am not saying Capitalism doesn’t make it worse, or feed into it, because it thrives on feeding, but I am saying it’s not at the root of the problem, and your dandelions are gonna keep growing back if you’re only weed whacking at the government.
When we feel badly, and we fight against it, we feel worse.
Mindfulness, the way we Westerners are using it, hits a “pause” button on the feedback loop that goes on between our brains and our feelz. And that can be a super helpful place to start. But it’s a hard button to hit…because we have REALLY REALLY good reasons to try to achieve, or overcome our way out of it.
Here’s a little break down of how the loop works.
I experience pain. For example, I feel lonely. The pain is telling me I need something. I need companionship, or comfort, or love. If I respond to the pain by answering the need the pain resolves, AND PRESTO, I am restored to health and peace. BUT, dun, dun, dun….there is a villain in our story. He is the bully or the bad guy, or the voice we give to a BIG MISTAKE we made, and keep making, about pain. That emotional PAIN in and of itself, means something about our reality, ourselves and our circumstances.
If you have a bleeding nose, you get a tissue. Or you pinch it. Or you buy yourself a humidifier because it’s Alberta and it’s obviously dry as eff. You don’t, typically stand in the mirror screaming “I am a bleeder. Look what I have done!” Yet, we have learned to respond this way to emotional pain. Somewhere along the line, we have felt pain and learned to respond to it with JUDGMENT. And the judgment says “The pain is fact. And it’s your fault”.
Ego, as it turns out, is not about that guy, slicking back his hair in the mirror of his “pussy wagon” and picking his teeth. It is a system that misreads pain, and then tries to save us from that pain by responding to the mistake that “we are broken and it’s our fault”, by striving to overcome ourselves and our circumstances, which eventually exhausts us and creates more pain. The maxim of ego is “I have to, I can’t.” It sets in motion all that over-driving, overthinking, business, underlying which is the confusion that I am this thing I feel hurt by.
The Ego response to I feel lonely, is “I am alone.” And “It’s my fault”.
AND HERE’S WHERE YOUR BRAIN TRIES TO JUMP IN AND SOLVE THE PROBLEM. It doesn’t want you to hear that awful judgment. It’s pretty sure that the answer is to SKIP straight from pain to “fix, accomplish, overcome, drive” or blame someone else, or both. Which, sadly, reinforces our psyche’s interpretation that we are the bad thing that happened and the fault of the bad thing, and launches into a cycle of defeat, where at best you get on top of the thing that is your fault for a while, but always with the underlying fear that you can’t keep it up, and that it’s all gonna come crashing down, and even your victories feel kinda hollow, because they are victories over, well, YOU, and all of your blameworthiness.
What I am telling you is that you can’t hear birds or smell roses when you are sprinting at top speed away from an awful meanie telling you that monsters are real and that everything that hurts you is your fault. And over time, well even those innocent little chickadees remind us that we are in danger of not just hurt, but BLAME. Tweet, tweet. They know what you did last summer!
I am a middle of the onion kinda gal. I don’t want us to be resigned to a life time of managing our distress in pain ridden five minute increments of resistance.
Theoretical mindfulness, is about FILLING your mind, aka, being intentional about your thinking. I am a fan of this, but it doesn’t work without understanding the nature of the thoughts, ideas, judgments and beliefs —and you don’t arrive at mental health without a nice visit to emotional health. I’ve said before, you don’t want to override hurt with affirmations about how well your life is going. We don’t tell a depressed person to “chin up”, and we can’t plant a rosebush in a bed of weeds and expect it to flourish.
Here are some hallmark ego faves that work to suck us back into pain and suffering. I offer these not because ego is the mean and powerful Devil to arm against and I am trying to rally you (it’s really the teenager on a joy ride), but so we can intervene MORE meaningfully, and get some of those BIG resolutions that encourage us to keep unwinding, so that we can smell the roses at last without being swarmed by metaphorical wasps.
The What if? The what if paints us all kinds of painful and often ridiculous scenarios that have us living out our worst nightmares all of which share in common our failure, aka, What if it happens and it’s my fault?
The Damned if I do, damned if I don’t says: ‘If I act and it goes badly it’s my fault’, and if I don’t act and I miss out, its my fault, therefore all bad outcomes are my fault, which makes for a lot of painful indecision.
It’s happening again says: ‘It was my fault then and now it’s my fault with an added evil twist because I retroactively failed to heal it or solve it the first time so something must be super, extra wrong with me.’
The dangled carrot says: ‘It almost happened and it’s my fault it didn’t.’ Usually with a flourish of ‘what’s wrong with me!’
If only it will be, says: ‘If only it happens it won’t be my fault anymore’, making me the if-only’s bitch.
If only it was says: ‘Had it happened differently it wouldn’t have been my fault’, making the past my bitch.
And while it’s sneaking a little beyond the scope of this musing, there are a bunch of ‘if only it’s their fault, then it’s not my fault’ notions that also go on with ego, and at the end of the day, only serve up more faults to go around.
The ego is our very own personal Wolf of Wall Street. I have to, I can’t, unless I take a lot of Quaaludes. It tries to be sexy. It’s funny when you see how unsexy it is. But it’s heading for jail.
So when you feel restless, anxious, overwhelmed, like you need to channel your inner Leonardo and sell some shit, when the BIG FAT WORLD is pushing your buttons, and trying to bribe you with a Big Mac and a line of Coke, recognize that you are probably scared, or feeling vincible, or like your grad class’s least likely to ever own a swimming pool. It’s time to look within, past the chirping birdies, past the fragrance of rosy posies, and JUST SAY NO, you are not alone, and it’s not your fault. It’s okay to feel lonely, and give that lonely feeling some comfort and companionship. All of the hookers and blow on Wall Street aren’t going give you that hug you missed from Mom. Sooner or later you have to hold out your arms.
|P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend. |
P.P.S. You can also follow me on Instagram, for real time updates, funnies and photos!