I caught myself doing it again – standing at the sink filling the Brita pitcher with my body all tensed up ready to fight, flee, or at least multitask.
One foot was forward supporting most of my weight while the hand I had resting on the faucet was pushing as if that would make the water come out faster. Meanwhile, because of the tension in my arms and legs, my back muscles were tightened up in an effort to assist the mad dash to my next task.
The thing is: there was no next task. When the pitcher was filled, all I had to do was lock my office and leave. I wish I could say that I was just eager to get home after a long day but, truth be told, I was done early. It hadn’t been a long day at all, and I had been enjoying taking my time with the closing tasks.
At some point, however, I lost the mindfulness I’d been enjoying and started going on auto-pilot as if I was once again the last one in the office and in a hurry to get home because I was famished.
As soon as I noticed the tension, I knew what I’d done. I took a deep breath and relaxed all those needlessly tense muscles. I gently reminded myself that I wasn’t in a hurry and that I’d really been enjoying the process of closing up when I wasn’t feeling rushed. My body and mind resumed their previously mindful state and I was calm and relaxed when I got home.
Notice the lack of judgement in my observations. I knew perfectly well why my auto-pilot ran at high speed and even higher tension; it was a remnant of the decades I’d spent as a stressed out mess. I also knew that, even though I’d had some sort of meditation and mindfulness practice for about 5 years, I wasn’t going to totally reset my default mode without more work. Besides, my default was now much slower than it had been when I started. I’ll take whatever progress I’ve made and be happy with it.
Instead of kicking myself for losing my focus, I congratulated myself for catching it as quickly as I did. When I began filling the pitcher, I had been fully present and mindful; the pitcher was only half full when I noticed the tension creeping into my body and mind. That’s pretty good considering that back in the day, I carried an exponentially higher amount of tension 24/7. When I think back on those days, I shudder.
You may be wondering how a meditation and mindfulness practice has helped me, and how it can help you, especially if the idea of sitting quiet and still for 20 minutes is enough to drive you crazy. I’ll tell you…
For starters it can make you aware of all the places you’re holding tension in your body, as opposed to just noticing the ones that hurt. You can do this by lying on the floor and noticing each place where your body contacts the floor, and then noticing all the areas that don’t touch. Notice every area of discomfort or pain and then fully explore each sensation.
It can also make you more productive. Yes, productive. When you multi-task, you split your attention between several things at once. Each time you move from one task to another you have to figure out where you left off previously and then take some time to get back in the flow. By doing one task at a time, you’re able to stay in the groove and get that individual task done much faster than if you were doing several things at once.
Meditation isn’t so much about completely emptying your mind as it is about actually getting to know your mind. It’s about learning what your mind is actually saying, whether there’s any truth to what it tells you, and what it takes to get each thought to pass on through instead of sticking around telling you stories. I started with 5 minutes daily and have gradually worked my way up to 20 (so far).
Mindfulness is the act being fully present for every thing you do. It’s the opposite of multi-tasking. When you do a task mindfully, you do just that task. As you do that task, you become aware of every aspect of the task. In the case of filling the water pitcher I was very aware of the smoothness of the lid, the slightly uncomfortable way I had to pinch my fingers together around the grooves in the lid so I could remove it, the small smooth handle with the flat top that made it easy to hold under the faucet, the ease with which the pitcher fit under the high faucet in the sink, the grip pattern on the tap as I turned the water on and off, and how the weight of the pitcher shifted as the water filtered through the reservoir into the pitcher itself. If mindfulness is boring, you’re doing it wrong. I began with attempting to be mindful during one short task and have gradually worked my way up to several.
The best way that mindfulness can help is to simply help you be more aware of the unconscious habits you have like rushing through meals, eating without actually tasting or fully chewing your food, holding tension in your muscles when you’re supposed to be relaxed, and making decisions based on fear rather than fact.
I challenge you to be fully mindful for one task a day for a week. Can you do it?* If not, can you learn something about yourself anyway?** More importantly, are you willing to keep it up to get to a point that you can complete one task in a mindful way?
Let me know you thoughts about the challenge in the comments below, and please… come back in a week and let me know how you fared in the challenge.
*I couldn’t when I first started.
**The answer should be yes. Even if it’s just, “I’m so distracted that I can’t maintain a mindful frame of mind for more than 5 minutes.”