a meditation on mindfulness
from evy's notebook
I sit on my bed and close my eyes as my phone speaks to me for the hundred-somethingth morning in a row. The goal is to focus on my breath, but inevitably I get distracted. Some days, I try to be more disciplined, but it mostly results in disappointment. Some days, I try to let my mind flow where it wants to, but those 20 minutes feel indistinguishable from the way my mind wanders when I fall asleep each night. I'm not really sure what meditation is supposed to look like. I know people call it a "practice", so what am I practicing, and how does practice help me get better? What is "better"?
* * *
I turn on my electric toothbrush and fight an intense urge to check my phone. Standing still for the full two minutes, I pay careful attention to how my body feels and try to notice each tooth I'm cleaning. This habit dies after a few weeks.
* * *
My mom told me a story of a retreat she attended where she was instructed to go for morning walks and label things as she walked past them, nonjudgementally and without subjective adjectives. "Tree", not "pretty tree". "Person". "Car". "Garden".
* * *
Therapy teaches about cognitive distortions - thought patterns that distort reality and perpetuate mental illness. It's one thing to learn about them, but much more difficult to catch and address them as they're happening. But over the past few years, I've been finding it easier to notice my thoughts and feelings.
It's difficult to meet my thoughts without judgment, without spiraling into anxiety about my anxiety - or even excitement for how excited I am. I practice noticing thoughts through a lens of curiosity and kindness. It takes me a lot of practice.
* * *
I walk quietly through my city and try to nurture my curiosity and notice the things around me. Sometimes I am excited to find a remarkable flower or a bracelet dangling in a tree, and those walks feel like a satisfying success. Other times, I fight restlessness and tension in my body for the full duration of the walk, and I come home disappointed.
* * *
A stranger sits across from me on the first evening of a meditation retreat. We are doing an exercise where we repeatedly ask each other, "what is happening right now?"
"My neck feels a little stiff," I respond.
"Thank you for sharing. What is happening right now?"
"I'm planning what else I want to say to answer this question."
"Thank you. What is happening right now?"
"I'm still planning what I want to say, and hmmm I'm also worrying about boring you by repeating that same answer!"
"And what is happening right now?"
* * *
And I notice what's happening right now. And I notice how it feels to notice. And that is my practice.