For a long time I was living in two places -- neither of them good for me. I was ruminating over events from so long ago they could have happened to a different person, I was stressing over my teenage years and I was finishing conversations in my head from last week, last month (okay, honestly -- last decade). And when I wasn't sitting in the past I was hopping on one foot waiting for tomorrow to come, I was wishing I was somewhere else, thinking about tomorrow/next month/next year.
It was hardly a surprise when the people who loved me suggested I try mindfulness to reduce my stress and keep me grounded in the present. Living in the past and future wasn't just rough on me; it was not helping me feel connected in any meaningful way.
At first I railed against the concept of mindfulness, putting it squarely in the alternative camp, a camp that is very uncomfortable for science-minded people like me. But a little research proved it wasn't as wacky as it sounded, indeed mindfulness had been given scientific backing by Dr Jon Kabat Zinn, a Professor of Medicine Emeritus in the late 1970s.
And while some may argue that it's good to be self aware and practise self-love, I am not sure that spending so much time on yourself is the real way to be mindful, certainly it's not the way to find connectedness with others.
In 1979 Kabat-Zinn founded a stress-reduction clinic where he adapted and then removed Buddhist teachings, developing a structured eight-week course which came to be known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He defined mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."
Armed with the knowledge that this ancient art of stress reduction had the scientific tick of approval, I was ready to start finding my way to staying in the present. Looking for the way there wasn't hard -- there are thousands of apps, books, blogs and centres dedicated to helping people be mindful.
Facebook offered me hundreds of posts promising "a better me" if I just sat with myself for a while. There were hundreds of people offering alternative ways to concentrate on myself, it was very me-centric and it baffled me that there were so many ways be mindful. I couldn't help but wonder, if all these people offering solutions were so settled and happy, why did they need to be constantly searching for new ways to be mindful.
The books I reached for confused me just as much. There was a lot to read, they promised so much if I only had the time and presence of mind to sit around for chapters and chapters of encouraging words about the importance of my own mind. My ego was being fed by the words on the pages but I wasn't feeling any more grounded. I began to understand the colouring in book movement; now there's a book that actually gets straight to the point.
So I reached for an app. I chose one that had rave reviews and promised me "easy to follow meditations". It had a nifty interface and I didn't have to spend hours getting to the point. I sat in my chair feeling my body making contact with the environment and pressed play.
"Close your eyes and rest your hands on your knees."
This I could do.
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The voice on the app encouraged me to relax, it was doing a great job. "I'm free of fear and guilt" I wanted to cry. "All I can feel is my body connected to the world". Fifteen seconds in and it was working. One minute in I was even breathing according to directions.
Then at the one and a half minute mark the very calming voice said to me: "We may have problems and experience pain but in many ways we have a healthy life compared to other people. Think about the freedoms you have that many people in the world don't get to experience."
I felt a floodgate of guilt opening in my brain.
"Think about the opportunities that are available to you. How might it feel if any of those things are taken away."
Fear rushed in to replace the guilt. I closed the app.
There seemed to be a lot of 21 century obstacles on my road to mindfulness, a lot of very first-world issues being addressed. The more I looked for ways to be mindful the more I found ways to be "me-ful" --meditations to focus on myself, what I have, what I want, what I need, apps to help discover the "real me", courses on finding "my true self" through meditation and mindfulness. And while some may argue that it's good to be self aware and practise self-love, I am not sure that spending so much time on yourself is the real way to be mindful, certainly it's not the way to find connectedness with others.
Through my very short journey with the 2017 version of mindfulness I discovered what I'm actually looking for is a place where everything is not centred on me. Being mindful has to feel very different from being me-ful.
Maybe the way forward is simply keeping others in mind. Now, to do that while remaining in the present and I think I might have all the answers sorted.