This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week… now! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!
As of 9:01 am PDT: 422 donors, $68,297.69.
As of 10:05 am PDT: 427 Donors, $69,687.69
So as part of this Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction practice that I’m starting to learn, our assignment for this week — is “assignment” the right word? The part of the practice that we’re adding this week is to pick a single task that we do every day, and to work on doing it mindfully: staying in the present moment, experiencing the task fully, noticing when our minds start to wander into plans and fantasies and memories and worries and then bringing them back to the experience of the moment.
Because I have some issues with food (unsurprisingly, I think a lot of people do, food is a large and deep issue), I decided to make my mindfulness task “making and eating breakfast.” And I’ve been noticing some interesting things.
First: I’m noticing how much more difficult it is to stay mindful when performing a task or an action than it is I’m just lying still and noticing each part of my body in turn. If for no other reason: It’s a moving target. Each moment is substantially different from the previous one: that’s somewhat true even when I’m lying still, but it’s more true, or more noticeably true, when I’m moving around the kitchen, or even just sitting on the sofa eating. And of course, doing activities means I do have to pull away from a simple contemplation of my immediate sensory experience, and do things like make sure I don’t burn myself when I pour the hot water over the coffee, or think about where the cheese slicer is.
I’m also thinking, though, that this practice may wind up being more beneficial in the long run than the “lying still and noticing each part of my body in turn” practice. After all, other than being asleep, lying still for forty-five minutes doing nothing isn’t really a part of my everyday life. If I can learn to stay mindful during ordinary tasks, at least some of the time, I think it will have more of an impact on my daily life.
But the main thing I’m noticing is how automatic it is for me to start on the next thing before I’ve finished the last one.
I have a powerful, unconscious reflex to reach for the next strawberry before I’ve finished chewing the last one; to reach for the coffee before I’ve finished swallowing my bite of toast and cheese. It’s being a very difficult habit to overcome: to just experience this strawberry, and not reach for the next one before I finish it. It’s not like it’s a big time-saver or anything — it doesn’t take that long to reach for a strawberry, it’s not like the half a second I save reaching for the next strawberry while I finish chewing the last one will significantly add to my time. It’s just a reflex.
And I know this reflex is a tendency I have in much of my life — not just eating breakfast. I strongly tend to live in the next moment, to live in my plans and hopes and worries and anticipations and expectations for what’s about to come, to focus on the next thing I want to do before I’ve finished the things I’m doing. Even when I’m doing something I’ve been planning and looking forward to for a long time — like a vacation — I tend to slip into thinking about the next bit of fun, rather than experiencing this one.
I’m generally okay with being a goal-oriented person. It’s a major part of how I engage with the world, and I am mostly at peace with it. But paradoxically, I think this tendency to live in my thoughts about my goals inhibits my ability to actually get them done already. When I look at all the things I want to do in a day, when I look at all the emails I want to answer and all the pieces I want to write and all the research I want to do… that’s when I turn into a hummingbird on meth, inefficiently flitting from task to task, or just getting paralyzed by all the things and just blowing it all off and watching “What Not to Wear.” I think this practice will help me focus: if I stay with the one thing I’m doing, instead of getting distracted by all the other things I want to be doing next, I get it done, better and calmer (and in fact, quicker)– and I can then move on to the next thing, and focus on that.
Not sure how to sum this up. Secular mindfulness meditation — neat!
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