I was introduced to the idea of “mindfulness” around four years ago by my therapist.
Now it’s all the rage and there are books on how to be mindful in business, weight loss, parenting, and even extreme kiteboarding.
Basically it boils down to just paying goddamn attention to what’s going on inside.
As someone that has ADD and former addictions I know little about being present for what’s going on inside. I’ve written about this ad nauseum, but other than occasionally, I haven’t really put it into practice. One of the challenges with mindfulness is that it’s usually wrapped around meditation. I’m not flexible enough for the lotus position and I don’t have any patchouli oil to burn. Plus, new age music gives me the creeps.
I read a story from a Harvard prof, Ellen Langer, who’s been studying mindfulness since the 1970s. Nobody paid much attention to her until recently even though she wrote the preeminent text on it back in the 80s.
Anyway, she says meditation isn’t necessary for mindfulness. Her research confirm this.
So, I’ve been carving out a few minutes every day while traveling to and from work on the train where I turn off Sirius or replays of my own podcast (yes, I sadly listen to my own stuff) or the best of The Lemonheads (which I must admit I stole online to check it out – didn’t like it, so I deleted the album. Is that wrong?).
I literally just sit and not think and see what happens internally.
The first few days, nothing came up. After a few minutes I got bored and went to my scorpion solitaire game, which is the most awesome solitaire game this side of mahjong.
Then on day three of my mindfulness practice sadness FLOODED me. I always stand up on the train, always, but I nearly needed to sit down.
And I couldn’t figure out what was happening.
I got curious about it and tried to source the pain, but it didn’t connect with any life events. I have a good job, wonderful relationship, fun parents, I pay my bills, and get to take my dog to work. Nothing particularly stressful or difficult is going on in my life.
Then it hit me – I’ve been avoiding sadness my whole life. Now it’s racing toward me like a tidal.
“Yes, I think you have a lot of sadness on the way,” agreed my therapist. Then she shrugged.
She’s right. And that’s the message I have received from paying attention. I’m so out of it I don’t even know what the sadness is all about. I just know I have a fartload of it.
This is surprisingly healthy and I intrinsically know it. That’s why the pain doesn’t concern me. It’s difficult to stay in sadness when it happens, that’s for sure. I want to escape in any way possible and with a smartphone I can get myself out with one tap. I’m trying to force myself to remain present for the pain until it processes. Which is the best course of action.
And it does pass. I’m usually only bummed out for maybe an hour at a time.
It’s tough for people to understand. If you say you’re sad they’ll ask you, “What about?” When you answer, “I have no idea,” they flash back to that Zoloft commercial with the cartoon egg. They think you’re in big trouble.
Ironically, not knowing what I’m sad about actually makes it easier to deal with. Because I don’t have to analyze it or judge it. It just is. So, if I can muster up the courage and patience to dive into the pain, my body will figure out what to do with it and I’ll be fine.
Now, if I ever can’t get out of bed or something, then I’ll start experimenting with mind-blowing psychoactives purchased on seedy overseas online pharmacies. I’m not above that.