24/7 Mindfulness

The hardest place to be is right where you are. In the space between the finish and the start.

Half Alive

A few months ago, in an effort to recover from my disordered eating habits, I began practicing mindful eating. Mindful eating, for those who don’t know, is essentially exactly what it sounds like. Rather than watching TV or reading or even talking to your partner, you focus all of your attention solely on the act of eating. I did a pretty good job of doing this for a month or so, but since then I’ve fallen back into my old habits to some extent. I still practice eating my breakfast and lunch mindfully, free from distraction, but I’ve started to only eat half of my dinner in this way. Allowing myself to go back to watching Netflix or something afterward.

Although I am proud of myself for the progress I have been able to maintain, I can’t help but be a bit frustrated I haven’t been able to keep my mindful eating practice going entirely. When I ask myself why that is, the answer I always arrive at is that it’s just too tiring to be mindful for so much of my day. Despite that being how I genuinely feel, it still doesn’t make total sense to me. How is focusing on one thing more tiring than spreading out my attention and multitasking? Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

Any time I try to imagine leading an entirely mindful, present life, this is the obstacle that I envision. It just seems like too much work. But why does it seem like that? Logically I don’t see how there could be that much of a difference between focused attention and scattered attention. Either way I am still awake and conscious and processing my surroundings the entire time. I wonder if there is a difference in the amount of energy we exert between the two or if this is just a false perception I employ to avoid myself.

I find myself giving the excuse, “I just need a break,” when I want to skip out on a mindful dinner. But how is eating and watching Netflix more of a break than just eating? Why does it seem like such an effort to just be still? I’m sure a lot of it has to do with unconscious conditioning, but it feels like there is more to it than that somehow. Where do I go when I am not being mindful? When I’m zoning out? Sometimes it feels as if my consciousness dissipates and I am just floating by on autopilot. And to a certain degree, I enjoy how that feels. It’s nice to not have to focus on anything. Even though I truly believe a more mindful life is inevitably a happier one as well. Why then do my mindless moments hold so much importance for me? Why does it seem like a nightmare to imagine being mindful 24/7?

It makes me wonder what the consciousness of a monk might feel like. Have they reached a state of perpetual mindfulness? Is that even possible? What might that be like? Considering this also brings to mind a quote from Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception:

To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet.

The Doors of Perception; Aldous Huxley

If you’re not familiar with this book, in it Huxley is describing his thoughts and experiences while under the influence of psychedelic drugs, particularly Mescaline. From Huxley’s description, this drug allows the doors of our perception to be flung wide open. We are aware of everything all at once. All of the sensory information that the brain would normally filter out is being noticed. And while this is a profoundly beautiful and moving experience according to Huxley, it is also quite overwhelming. That is why he believes our normal conscious mind is filtered through was he has labeled the “reducing valve.”

I don’t know if this is truly relatable to regular, every day consciousness, but that is how mindfulness feels to me sometimes. It has the ability to make even the most mundane, monotonous moments beautiful and profound, yet it can become tiresome and overwhelming trying to remain in this highly focused state for too long.

Then again, perhaps mindfulness is more like a muscle. Maybe the more I practice, the less of an effort it will seem to be. Just like doing a 150lb. deadlift might seem impossible at first, if you keep slowly increasing your maximum weight, you’ll get there eventually. There is still so much that I don’t fully understand about mindfulness and the obstacles standing in the way of it for me. I am hopeful that with further practice and contemplation, I will be able to uncover some of the answers I’m looking for.

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Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

A few days ago, my new boyfriend had to move over five hours away from me for a new job. When I first found out he’d be moving, I thought there was no way things could work between us. Then after we started dating and I began liking him more and more, I started to think it might not be so bad after all. Now that he’s actually gone, I’m back to wondering if this long distance relationship is even possible. My mind and heart keep oscillating back and forth between these opposing thoughts.

Once I considered the fact that I haven’t dated anyone in around five years, I thought maybe it would be good for me to have a long distance relationship at first. I have developed quite a few embarrassing bad habits in my time living alone, especially during quarantine. It would end up being quite stressful having him coming over all the time and possibly moving in. After becoming accustomed to being alone, I’m not sure I’m ready to have someone constantly by my side and in my business. With him being far away now, I figured I’d get a lot of the emotional benefits of having a boyfriend without having to worry about the close proximity. Now I’ll have some time to get my shit together a little bit before things get more serious between us.

Despite these benefits, I’m starting to worry once again. You see, neither one of us is very good at texting. We’re both busy with our own things and only end up sending a couple of messages back and forth each day. We’ve already talked over Facetime once and we do plan on writing each other letters, but I worry that won’t be enough. I already miss him so much. And that’s me, someone who wasn’t sure they could ever even love again. I can’t imagine how he must be feeling given that he is a very affectionate, relationship focused person.

I’m terrified I am going to lose him already. I’m definitely willing to wait for as long as it takes and do everything I can to make this long distance relationship work, but I’m worried he’ll change his mind about that. I wouldn’t blame him. He seems like he’s much more capable of finding partners than I am. I’m sure there are plenty of new vegan girls that he’ll find closer to him. I keep feeling my heart contract with fear, dreading the day when he texts me that he can’t do this anymore. I’m afraid I won’t even have the opportunity to hold him again before that happens.

Even though I’m open to polyamory, I’m not sure if he is or if that would ultimately help or hurt the situation. I’ve thought about breeching the subject with him, but am too afraid of scaring him off. Especially considering that he was cheated on by his fiance a few years ago. The proposal for an open relationship might send him running for the hills. It wouldn’t even be for my benefit though. I doubt I’d even utilize the opportunity were our relationship to be open. I would just hope that should he find someone else, he wouldn’t completely abandon and forget about me. He would be able to be with both of us. The new girl wouldn’t feel threatened because I’m so far away, and I would have the peace of mind of knowing that my baby is happy and being taken care of by someone. Maybe I would even fancy this girl and we could all become a happy little thruple someday.

Although, in that scenario, would we even really still be dating? He would have even less time to talk to me and would easily grow much closer to his new girlfriend while our relationship withers away in the background. I think I’ll stay quiet about that option for now and just hope he is able to manage the distance as well as me. Not that I’m fairing super well at the moment either though. There has always been a constant push and pull inside my heart. One moment I want to never leave his side and the next I’m relieved I won’t have to make time to hangout. At least there are those moments when the distance suits me.

I know that everything is about perspective in the end. I will just have to focus on all the good aspects of having a long distance relationship. At times it does seem rather perfect for someone like me. Although part of me still holds out hope that he’ll absolutely hate this new job and decide to come back home. I know that’s cruel and selfish, but I can’t help it. Maybe I’ll start writing my first letter to him tomorrow. Hopefully that will let me feel closer to him again. It’s so strange to think that only a few months ago I had no idea who this person was. I was even still pathetically pining over my ex. Now I actually haven’t given him a single thought in quite a while. Finally I’ve found someone who is truly a much better, healthier match for me. I hope that despite this distance, we will continue to grow and improve together and find ways to feel close to one another. I’m terrified of getting hurt again and I find myself struggling with it already, but he is more than worth all of the fear and the effort.

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Yesterday I found myself having a rare moment of pure peace and happiness. I sat down to start planning out and scheduling when I was going to do different cleaning and organizing chores around my house. Before forcing myself to begin this task I had been feeling rather anxious as I usually am during that point in the afternoon. Yet I realized that focusing my mind on something made all that anxiety fade into the background and dissolve for awhile.

It’s strange. Whenever I am feeling super anxious I feel incapacitated. My inner voice tells me I simply can’t do anything. I’ve just got to sit and try to relax or do something mindless to avoid how I’m feeling. I start to focus on my anxiety, which makes me more anxious, which starts a dizzying cycle, winding me up inside. That was how I felt yesterday before starting my task. I told myself I couldn’t do it. I’d have to put it off until another day. Somehow I got myself to start and realized I was having a great time.

At that moment I had a very interesting thought. I’ve often felt that my higher than average intelligence contributes to my anxiety. A brain with a lot of processing power and nothing to process will scramble around and chase it’s own tail until it drives itself crazy. A brilliant mind with no direction will soon devolve into chaos. At least that’s my theory.

My problem is that as a child I somehow came to associate any kind of “work” or “effort” with something negative. I saw how my parents hated their work. It seemed like a necessary drudgery that I wanted desperately to avoid. I resisted anything besides “leisure time.” I wanted to lay around, watch TV, frolic outside, go online, play video games, munch on snacks, and occasionally write or draw. Anything else felt forced. An egregious waste of my precious time. An impingement on my freedom.

At some point, however, I began to recognize that bizarre perspective for what it was, ridiculous nonsense. There is nothing inherently “bad” or “unpleasant” about hard work or being challenged. I was just choosing to perceive it in that way. Only recently have I realized that, like most humans and even animals, I enjoy those things quite a lot. It feels good to work hard at something and reap the well-earned rewards of that effort. It is fun to challenge yourself or to be challenged. That is how we learn new things. That is how we grow. That is how we surprise ourselves. These are the things that make life interesting.

Trying to keep my brain from working on anything, trying to spend all my time lounging around in some strange attempt to enjoy life more, has led me only to an existence fraught with anxiety. At least now I can start to shift away from my old mindset that brought me here.

It can be very hard to convince myself to start working on something when I don’t feel like it. I’m the type of procrastinator that waits around for inspiration to strike before I do anything. But I’ve learned that once I actually make up my mind to begin, that is most often when the inspiration finally comes.

Even though it may not seem appealing at first, setting your focus on a task will often lead you to that blissful flow state. That state where time no longer matters and you are fully consumed by what you are doing. There is no room for anxious thoughts in that state. The mind is too busy to be anxious. It is the idle mind that is anxiety’s playground.

I hope to come back to this post in the future when I am feeling too overwhelmed to do what I had planned to. I want it to be a reminder that the hard part is just to start. The next time I feel anxious I am going to close my eyes, take five slow, deep breaths, and then focus my mind on what I want to do.

It will be like a meditation. Each time I feel my mind going back to a state of anxiety, I will gently guide it back. I will focus on my task just as I focus on my breath during meditation. Because that is truly what makes meditation so blissful. It is not necessarily the stillness or even the breath itself. It is our diligent focus. When the mind finds focus, everything else falls away. When we are focused we are truly present in the moment. And when we are truly present, joy and peace are sure to arise naturally from within.

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