Everywhere I look these days people are extolling the values of living mindfully. Celebrities are raving about the benefits of daily meditation, and “live in the moment” memes saturate social media. It seems that “still the mind” sentiment trends faster than a Kardashian selfie. But is this conscious sentiment all it’s cracked up to be?
I tend to think a lot. I ponder, analyse, question, examine, and then think some more. It’s possible I am taking Socrates’ famed expression – “an unexamined life is not worth living” – too literally. I examine, well, everything – from the big stuff, to the small stuff, to the meaningful and the meaningless. It’s my default setting.
When I hear people say, “don’t overthink it”, I can’t help but laugh. At myself. I am a self-confessed over thinker; I excel at it. But lately I’ve been flirting with the idea of switching off. Not entirely, because that would be a little dramatic, and I don’t think cold turkey is my thing. But I do think I would benefit from reducing some of the noise. Because it’s very LOUD in there!
Previous attempts to still my mind have backfired. My brain immediately responds with a surge of adrenalin. Instead of slowing it down, it speeds up, raising my heart rate instead of calming it. I’m like a junkie suffering from immediate withdrawals if I am without my thoughts; an addict, desperate for my next hit.
Seduced by the promise of a calm, tranquil, and content mind, I decided to give meditation a go. It sounded enticing, and a lot more appealing than the methods I experimented with in my youth to achieve a similar state of mind. But try as I might I just couldn’t get into a Zen-like state.
But meditation is apparently so yesterday. Mindfulness is the new player so I gave that a red hot go. I was sold by the assurance that it wasn’t as hard as meditation, and could be done anywhere, anytime. The idea being that you don’t have to stop your thoughts (big tick for me) but rather observe them. But here’s where the whole mindfulness thing got tricky for me. You are not mean to judge your thoughts, simply notice them. This had me stumped. A Nano-second after turning my brain to “mindful status” a thought would enter my brain. Immediately I would then judge that thought, however banal said thought was. Then, I would berate myself for doing it wrong, and rinse, spin, repeat!
Try as I might, I couldn’t master the whole no judgment thing to mindfulness. It seemed, well, a bit mindless. What was the point in thinking of something, merely to observe it? When am I meant to make all the many hundreds of decisions I need to make every day?
Part of me feels that mothers are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to tuning into the present. I mean, we wouldn’t get anything done if we spent too much time being still. Mums are highly skilled at multi-tasking, which is the very antithesis of mindfulness, but a necessary skill for survival in the parenting world.
How do you look after your mind? Post continues below.
And I am not sure I even want to be “present” half the time. Honestly, I am happy for a meandering mind when faced with yet another mealtime meltdown. And don’t get me started on school assemblies. I just want to listen out for the bits that relate to my child and zone out for the rest (read: mentally create the day’s To-Do list). And who can honestly claim a shred of mindful pleasure when enduring the mind-numbing torture that is pushing a swing in a park. No way, I am happy for my mind to be elsewhere!
I am not going to abandon the mindful idea altogether. Sometimes a still, calm, non-judgey mind would be useful. At night, my brain is both weary and wired, a strange marriage of contradictory states. As if I haven’t done another thinking through the day, my brain insists on thinking some more.
Perhaps I have taken Socrates theory too far. There’s a limit to what needs to be examined. Admittedly, Socrates probably wasn’t referring to the conundrum of whether to cut the bread into triangles or squares, or an in-depth analysis of what that person’s status on Facebook really meant, or whether to get Thai or Indian for dinner…
I don’t want to be present all the time, but it would be useful if I could close a few mental tabs.