If you’d ask me what I thought about the “mindfulness” movement a few years ago, I am sure I would have rolled my eyes. I roll my eyes at many things. I’m a skeptic and a cynic with a dash of fatalist thrown in as well. Mindfulness sounded to me like something I would lump in with homeopathy and aromatherapy…woo.
As I grow older, and since my son died, I have realized that life is terribly, tragically brief. I am stumbling through it, on the same path that many of us are on, the path of consumption, the path of mindlessness, the path of constant entertainment, something to fill the mind so that it doesn’t have time to learn to be empty. To be present.
We are a noisy culture. We don’t like mindfulness. We don’t like blank time. We are always going, busy, frantic, texting, messaging, buying, endlessly filling our homes with items that we’re convinced we need to be happy. We stare at our phones endlessly, even when we are with other people whose company we enjoy. We always have one foot in the present and one foot heading out the door to something else. Living in the moment, being present in our surroundings and with our surroundings and with those people surrounding us – it’s not something at which we excel. And we’re getting worse.
I never really thought much about this (which is precisely the problem). I was never taught mindfulness – not by my family, not in school – nowhere was mindfulness ever talked about. Instead, I learned to self-soothe with unhealthy foods. I learned to take the easy route instead of the difficult route. I never considered that I should be mindful of my body, what it could do, and how I should care for it. I never thought about what I put into it or how I treated it. Like most of us, I lose hours at night on social media, staring at Facebook. The night ends with me asking myself what I’ve accomplished. Or if not even accomplished, then what I did in the last few hours that nourished me in some way, shape, or form. The answer is often nothing. We live mindless lives.
Grief is the ultimate exercise in mindfulness. In that tiny silence between heartbeats, in that pause, grief makes itself known. True grief cannot be willed away simply by ignoring it or burying yourself in activity. True grief causes a shift in your perception of the world and your place in it. True grief illuminates the long-neglected corners of our minds. True grief must be seen, heard, and felt. There is no ignoring it or wishing it away. Stuffing it down only leads to grief leaking out, like a corrosive acid, into other aspects of our lives. Grief has been the most illusive teacher in my life. To love greatly, you must be willing to suffer greatly. It is against our nature to choose to allow the suffering, and so again, we turn from mindfulness into mindlessness.
Being mindful takes effort – enormous effort. It takes recognizing the frantic pace of our lives and the often almost inexplicable sadness, the emptiness, that accompanies it. I have never learned to be mindful, to be present, but I am trying now. And while I learn it, I have to teach it to my children somehow.
I need to build sanctuary – both within and without. The modern world makes this difficult. When did social media become such an integral part of my daily existence? More importantly, why? We lack the village anymore, but rather than build one, we make one on-line, further disconnecting ourselves from meaningful human interaction.
It doesn’t seem like it should be hard, does it? And yet, being present, in the moment, and thinking about our decisions is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Why am I eating this? Does this nourish me? Why am I buying this? Do I need it or does it fulfill some desire to think of something – anything – other than my aching sadness for my son? Why am I checking my phone for the 10th time this hour? Do I really think I’ve missed something that vital – or again, am I chasing mindlessness? These questions are becoming increasingly easy to answer as I grow and stretch in the agony of grief. These are not muscles that I’ve ever used before, and like any muscles, they must be warmed up, they must be toned, and the doing of such is painful. But is IS worth doing.