The other day, I did a yoga class with a new instructor who was very keen on mindfulness. Very, very keen. So keen, in fact, that he had us spend what felt like an hour standing and thinking about how our toes felt pressing into our mats, how our fingertips felt brushing against our yoga pants, how our hair felt touching the tops of our ears…you get the idea. We were supposed to cleanse our minds of all else, acknowledging thoughts as they came to us but then letting them go.
“Think of the ideas that come to you as small, fluffy clouds drifting past on the clear blue sky that is your calm mind. Acknowledge them as they pass…but let them go.”
Right. This is my yoga dilemma. I just don’t have the self-discipline to think about my toes and fingertips and the hair brushing my ears…not for five straight minutes anyway. My mind is less like a clear blue sky than it is like Lake Ontario on a windy day. There are so many white caps on the blue back ground, I hardly know where to look.
Now, lest you think I’m a genius, let me set you straight. The thoughts that fill my mind aren’t profound – just the endless bits and pieces of my daily life. And those bits and pieces make it very hard for me to concentrate on how my toes are feeling. Just as I’m getting really Zen about the whole mindfulness thing, a fluffy-cloud thought intrudes on my blue sky: Liz: we are down to the last few sheets of toilet paper in the house. Buy some on the way home or else.
I try to acknowledge that thought and gently let it go but…what if I forget to stop at the store on my way home? Disaster! How can I be sure to remember that thought when yoga class ends? I tell myself that when I tie my right shoe I’ll remember that thing I need to do…buy toilet paper. Perfect! My toes haven’t been my focus for nearly a minute now but I’m reassured that I won’t forget this important errand. Back to being mindful…but no…another fluffy thought appears: book your hair appointment. If I forget to call and make that booking, I won’t be able to get in for another week at least and my hair will look so bad I sure won’t be feeling very Zen. I’ll remember to book that appointment when I tie my left shoe… Blue sky? What blue sky? Clouds? What clouds? Toes? What toes?
I’ve come to realize that I practice a whole different form of mindfulness – one that adds an extra ‘L’ – mind-full-ness. I couldn’t stuff another thought into my head if my life depended on it. So I’ve decided that what I can’t change, I’ll embrace, savouring the rich abundance of my mental buffet. While everyone else is thinking about toes and fingertips and hair brushing their ears, I’ll stand there on my mat, with my eyes closed, breathing deeply and shamelessly think my way through the piles of details that make up my messy, crazy, lovely life. And if that isn’t Zen, I don’t know what is.