MINDFULNESS MEDITATION, focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, is, as you probably already know, touted as a way to improve happiness and reduce anxiety.
The idea appeals to me because I get bored easily. I also get easily overwhelmed. In fact, for me, the sweet spot between boredom and being overwhelmed is very thin indeed. I decided that learning to be more focused on the present moment would make my waking hours more restful and that mindfulness would make the time flow more evenly.
My first try in reaching this elusive goal was a course from the Great Courses website. I can’t remember exactly how long the course was—but at least 24 hours of lecture on the benefits of mindfulness and how to achieve it. The instructor was less than thrilling, and I got bored after about six hours and concluded that this wasn’t making me more mindful, just eager to do something else.
My next idea to learn mindfulness sounded perfect: a studio within walking distance of my house advertising classes in mindfulness. What could be more convenient? I attended one Sunday, took a seat with about 30 other people who seemed anxious about this opportunity to recharge through meditation. As we went through the session, listening to the facilitator, I glanced around, trying to figure out how sitting in a room on hard chairs among strangers could relieve stress. Not only did I not relax but I started to feel agitated. I couldn’t help but focus on the person next to me, who kept shaking his head and rocking back and forth during all this meditation. It drove me crazy. I kept thinking he was going to end on my lap, and this distracted me from even the most minute
amount of relaxation. Needless to say, I did not return.
It turns out, you don’t have to just sit still to be mindful. You can walk while being mindful or do almost any other activity. The goal is to focus on what you are doing without letting your mind wander. This sounded more reasonable for me. After all, I got that feeling when I used to play tennis and while I swim. As long as I had something to concentrate on, I could be more mindful.
I decided to take a class in cupcake decorating as a way to focus my mind on an activity that surely requires concentration. Little did I know that only three adults would be present, outnumbered by young adults around 12 years of age. As I was trying to concentrate on creating flower petals in magenta I was distracted by the girl next to me who wanted to move through the course faster than the instructor and learn how to mix colors. Paradoxically, I too was feeling the urge to expedite the lesson but was trying very hard to be patient, waiting for the information to flow from the instructor at her pace. I
think my patience was influenced by the fact that I didn’t find acting like a 12-year-old very appealing.
Despite these setbacks, I think I am actually getting the hang of being mindful. At work, I try to complete a task with a bit more focus, whereas I used to want distraction and to work on several projects at once. And when I have insomnia I find that practicing mindfulness does help.
I’ve decided that mindfulness while doing an activity is the right approach for me. I’m planning to attend a knitting club that I heard about at a local Starbucks, although the caffeine may make relaxation a bit more difficult.
And I’m looking forward to a monthly event I’ve heard of at the National Cathedral. It’s a labyrinth walk,* where you walk around a circular pattern they lay on the floor, designed for prayer or meditation. I’m already worrying about what to do when someone in front of me is going too slowly, but I understand you can pass him or her. Sounds like just my speed.
Danielle Schor is a Washington, DC, writer in Washington.
*There’s also a labyrinth, this one outdoors, in Georgetown Waterfront Park, about a block west of Wisconsin Avenue NW where it dead-ends at Water Street NW, in Georgetown.