Saturday, January 1, 2011

Are You Out of Your Mind(fulness)? Try My Balance Technique!

I am contemplating mindfulness, the psychological concept that promotes giving complete attention to the present on a moment-to-moment basis or paying attention purposefully, presently and nonjudgmentally. Oxford's definition of mindful is also helpful:

mindful- (adjective)
with mindful steps we slowly made our way down the gorge: aware, conscious, sensible, alive, alert, acquainted, heedful, wary, chary; informal wise, hip; formal cognizant, regardful. ANTONYMS heedless.

I suppose it's a little bit of a problem if I am contemplating mindfulness. The point of mindfulness is to be in and of the moment-letting go and feeling each moment, as they come, not as they have been predetermined, planned and/or coerced into being. Not as they relate to a future goal or past hurt. Right now. There is something a bit, shall we say, selfish about this technique or life-style approach, for me anyway. If I am in and of the moment, who is planning, providing and caring for the children in my life? Even as young adults, these children still need a good dose of planning and providing for. How do I approach life's meanderings into those gorges, bumps, and unnatural disasters, mindfully?

Needless to say, I started wondering, “Is Mindfulness a new movement for the All-About-Me folks?” I wonder if it provides too much wiggle room for not taking responsibility for ones, how can I say this kindly? Ummm, RESPONSIBILITIES! I am not really sure how this Mindfulness approach works. I think I need more information. Is it just an add-on strategy to get through the tough times? A natural approach to talking oneself off the cliff, through the anxiety, depression, debilitating self-doubts and internal recriminations? Or is it simply another tool for the self-help tool box?

I have had my share of troubles that I wish I handled more thoughtfully, or mindfully. Some self-made, some tailor-made with a great deal of malice by others, some naturally occurring and some troubles that I should have been able to avoid had I squarely looked them in the eye and registered the flashing lights, blood curdling screams or billboard sized writing on the wall. The thing about trouble is, it's necessary. It serves a purpose, it often helps us to take stock in what we have, what we need to change, what we have no control over changing and what we sometimes measure ourselves against. If I see my trouble as a one-moment occurrence I may lose out on the opportunity to change, better myself, and the world around me.

Mindfulness does have a place. It can be very helpful to minimize anxiety and unhealthy responses to stress. I have this intense and irrational fear of driving on mountain passes. The curving, narrow passes that lack guard rails especially throw me over the edge. Or at least that's what I imagine as I am driving on them. Getting thrown right off the edge. Irrational. I very rarely, ok, never, I have never rolled, swirved and veered off any road for any reason. It could happen. It could even happen quite easily under the right, or wrong conditions. Black ice, a rogue animal lunging, leeping or scampering onto a highway, a motorist crossing lanes and heading right towards me...but these are events that can't typically be controlled, call for great faith or just need to be filed as highly unlikely. So, the next time I get on the mountain pass bound for irrational internal hell, I suppose I could be mindful. I can attempt to talk my way through it. I can Jon Kabatt-Zinn myself into a zen like moment of peace- but I don't know who will grab the steering wheel as I white-knuckle my way under the dashboard, breathing and feeling my feelings as they arrive each one as important and valued as the next. I guess it will take work and effort. But here lies the rub for me. Is the work and effort congruent with the each moment stands alone theory? If each moment stands alone how can I work on my irrational fears?

Responsibility has always been my guide, sort of like Jiminy Crickett's leaning toward the conscience and that catchy little tune of his. If pushed, I suppose I can connect my responsible demeanor to some earlier, unpleasant experiences with irresponsible persons, but I can also connect it to success, pride and peace of mind. It can be from the past, and it can be present-centric. Whatever, no worries, no blame necessary. It's all good, for now. Mindfulness keeps us away from those past issues and discourages worrying about tomorrow. Living with responsibility as the tour d'force hampers my ability to be impulsive and spontaneous, fully enjoying each moment as it unfolds. An aspect of myself I miss greatly, youth wasted on the youth, if you will. Impulsive and spontaneous can be a great deal of fun. (Maybe I will write that into an internet dating tag at some point, but not in this particular moment.)

Being ever responsible keeps mindfulness at arms length. It has made me, at times a bit staunch as a parent, a teacher, a friend, a partner. I thought I was being mindful teaching about responsibility and the rewards of work, and the value of honesty, and other responsibility related themes. I responsibly believe that my children have benefitted from my being a role-model and example. I have been mindful of my shortcomings and imperfections and I have imagined that allowing them to see these would help them to understand each moment can be a struggle and a gift. We work on becoming better people, often, almost always.

There are times that mindfulness is useful in slowing yourself and your fears down. Mindfully responding to stress in a healthy way to be more present to yourself and those around you, is shall we say, responsible! I have been learning to apply some of the strategies of mindfulness to my own flirtations with calamity building and avoiding disaster mongering. I tend toward what ifs and should haves. I definitely need to learn to appreciate a quiet moment, and fully, yet calmly, participate in it. Letting go of the numerous responsibilities for a mindfully experienced moment is not really so decadent after-all.

I was once overtly mindful that I was expected to keep 200 plus children safe and I took this responsibility on with fervor. There were some that disagreed with my style and approach. That experience made me take a look at myself. I still believe my responsibility was a very serious one. I now understand it was possible to present myself less seriously, maybe more relaxed. In doing so I might have balanced the best of all worlds. I am learning being responsible doesn't need to be a buzz kill.

I am working on creating Balance Training Techniques. They may be useful, give it a try and decide for yourself when your mind starts wandering towards worry.
Lie down. Close your eyes. Breathe in, breathe out. Visualize a large balance scale. Think about your present stressors and concerns. Place them on one side of the balance. Visualize how the one side has gotten sooooo heavy with your burdens. Now visualize putting on a pair of waders and grabbing an electronic metal detector apparatus. Move the dial to Burdens, it's between Rusted Bottle Caps and Triangular Trade Bullion's. You may want to put on a pair of safety goggles in your mind. Be kind to yourself. If you want to wear goggles with rhinestones, go ahead, visualize the shiniest pair you can find. Go to the side of the scale that is weighted down. Use the burden detector to sort through which of these burdens are old, battle scars. Pick through and get rid of these first. They have served their purpose but are no longer needed. Look at the pile of concerns and stressors, go on, you have plenty. No need to keep the really old ones. Your mother might have loved your brother more, but so what? You were a tad bit whiny and hard to get close to, after-all. Pull it out of the pile and toss it away. By now you have adapted and surround yourself with people that like those qualities in you. Is the meter buzzing? An old bottle cap or a big, shiny burden? Only keep the big shiny ones. Ok you have completed that task. Lie down again, breathe, throw in a few kegel's while you are down there. Now visualize the pleasure in your life. Fun times. Simple and hilarious, both. Hobbies, adventures, walks in the park, pina coladas and getting caught in the rain(?). Chocolates, cocktails, books, movies, friends, lovers, throw them on the empty side of the scale. Is it balanced yet? If not try to remember when and how you had fun, real fun. Try it again, try something new. Add to the scale, balance it. The burdens and worries will keep regenerating and the fun and pleasure will help see you through, momentarily, in the moment, provide reprieve, give yourself something else to think about. Something or someone, aside from you, you, you.

Don't go out of your ever-living, cotton-picking mind. But don't get stuck in the moment, alone with your feelings of stress and worry. Participate responsibly and throw in a little fun, or a boat load of fun, you may need it to balance the scale. Mindfulness is a useful tool in getting oneself on track, not as a means to an end. Mindfulness in and of itself is not sustaining. Planning and goal setting is necessary for survival, for relationships, for participating in one's life with purpose and meaning, responsibly, and with pleasure. Good, loud, thrilling pleasure, have at it, safely.

Back to the earlier definition; With mindful steps we slowly made our way down the gorge.... I am currently looking forward to the mindful, responsible and at times frivolous ascent back up the gorge, look for my rhinestone and bedazzled safety goggles.