The Stress of Mindfulness

The first time I was introduced to the practice of mindfulness was when reading Geneen Roth’s Women, Food and God, in which the first chapter already illustrates that one of the basic premises of intuitive eating is simply being there for the event. Showing up. Truly living in that moment. Your body, the food, your mouth, the temperature, texture, everything. No thoughts.

Henceforth, I tried. I tried to be there and taste and feel and savor every bite. This, so I thought, was mindfulness.

All the more frustrated I got when I just could not do and be these things. When, despite really trying, a large part of the plate was empty before I even noticed. When I started the meal ‘mindfully’ but, after finishing it, realized that everything after the beginning had gone unnoticed, untasted, uncherished. Tomorrow had gotten in between the food and me — or yesterday, or bygone parts of today. The thing that was mostly missing was the Now. After a few months of this, part of me then simply assumed I somehow couldn’t do mindfulness unless I was going through an exquisitely slow, relaxed phase of my life (which is like, never). I more or less buried the concept, because it was – paradoxically – stressing me out.

Only last month — two weeks into my MBSR-course — the scales fell from my eyes:

I had somehow misunderstood mindfulness.

Mindfulness goes beyond being stubbornly focused on the here and now. Mindfulness is being distracted and then noticing that you are distracted. That alone deserves applause. And after that, mindfulness is gently guiding your attention back to where and what you actually are — without judging your previous excursion. (Obviously, this part is much easier said than done!)

Staying uninterruptedly focused on the Now in every moment of our lives is impossible. Mindfulness is not an attempt to overcome a given: wandering thoughts are a natural and even necessary part of our existence (it is quite unadvisable for the mind to reside in the present moment exclusively; some planning has to be done, and some reflection on past mistakes is essential for survival).

Mindfulness is not staying in the Now from here on forth forever and ever. It is simply coming back to the Now again and again without wasting even a trace of anger over the fact that you were gone. For as soon as you are annoyed with yourself for having been distracted, you are actually distracted yet again — which makes it a sort of double-distraction.

My course instructor says that one of HIS favorite teachers suggested we pop a bottle of champagne every time we return to the moment. With this he means that it is a pointless waste of energy to fret over our unavoidable thought journeys; instead, we should celebrate the times we do show up.

Again. So much easier said than done! Especially when Now feels crappy. Or when there is so much planning to be done. So many problems to be solved.

Still. I am happy to say that I cannot afford the amount of champagne bottles needed to cover the moments of presence I have been granted since the beginning of the course. And this is just the beginning.

I would have never thought I’d say this, but: My newest goal in life is to get completely and utterly drunk as a skunk.