A word I remember learning along with respect, kindness, understanding of others, yet not until the last few months have I really focused on what it means to me as an individual. Over a year ago, I dabbled in mindfulness in "Be here. Now!", reteaching myself the importance of finding small moments of the presence, living in them and forcing the anxiety of the future to take a chill pill, while I let my faith be the backbone of my life.
I'll admit that one got a way from me a little, as I reread it took a churchy tone, while relevant, the general message was muddled by the end. Hey, I never said I was the best writer. But what I'm finding is that I still crave those small moments of living in the moment. Appreciating the small little things at a higher level when they are the sole focus, even just for the moment.
While I knew channeling my wild mind, constantly reacting to sparks of firework ideas, would take quite a bit of reigning in, I didn't fully understand how rogue I had let it go until recently. As a "millennial", (certainly, not putting the blame on culture, but I know I'm not the only one dealing with over-stimulation issues), we have forced our brains to be accustom to jumping and chasing each firework that goes off, almost anticipating and searching for the boom before it even sounds, creating a chaos in our minds that refuses to sit still, focus on a thought to finality before lurching forward to the next, instead we carelessly reprioritize moment by moment, chasing the sonic boom that is social media and this want, now need, to be a part of something more than ourselves, even in times of solitude.
"I'm going to stay in and watch a movie" is changed from those acts to checking devices on an almost minute schedule with fear that we're missing something by following what our heart wants to do. The simple acts of reading a book, meeting friends for lunch or sadly, even sleeping, is met with little forced "check ins" with our phones on the world that's not right in front of us, as we habitually force our brains to dedicate thought into moments we aren't living in.
No wonder many of us suffer from anxiety and have manic-like stress...
In January, I received a gift from a very close family friend. A 2016 calendar with witty quotes and drawings that she deemed "probably useless to you because of technology, yet worth keeping just for the quotes". (I've always been a collector of quotes). Laughing while skimming some of the pages in her presence, I knew it was the perfect gift, yet agreeably knew it probably would end up collecting dust on a shelf in my apartment. The first few days I skimmed the pages.
With gems like these to enjoy along the way, I had a thought, no, a challenge for myself. I would find something, if not somethings, in each and every day to write in that space.
I had never been one to keep a diary. In fact, most times I ever attempted one it began as follows:
Here ends all diary entries.
I had always struggled to continue that first sentence, afraid of what I might say to myself, afraid of what truths it might hold. It always seemed silly to me to document the minute details of a day when I was, in fact, living those details out and could remember them. But this would be different...this had to be different. Somehow I knew that I needed this more than I wanted to avoid it.
Heres the process:
Moments before I settle down for bed before watching some ABCFamily, (oh I'm sorry is it "FreeForm" now? Same glorious romcom dramedy I love with no shame, no need for the name change) I split the date in half down the middle with a line. I then let my mind vomit out thoughts from the day, acknowledging them in two categories listed below, until I feel done
- Above the line: Things/Moments that were "Good"
- Below the line: Things/Moments that were "Bad"
Some days, entries have more good than bad, others more bad than good, some have very few notes, others the notes run into the margins, some include drawings, others just a few small words with lots of meaning, but upon completion, (this isn't timed) I feel like whatever stress or baggage I've carried throughout the day, is gone. The "good", on most days, outweigh the bad. The "bad" are usually things I can inevitably control, while others are things that I can learn from to insure that they wont make the list again, or serve as a reminder for the future.
Below is a photo of a jam-packed week from January. (Excuse the "Ass Towel" reference...that's for another story.)
It's not rocket science. Hell, this wont even make Oprah's socks budge and I'm sure that those used to journaling will consider this a cheap attempt, For me, it's been a game-changer. I've been able to unload some of the daily anxiety of the future, but understanding the little moments that built each day. I can fully appreciate the good moments and evaluate the bad, knowing that they are "good moments" and not "bad days", teaching myself that even the worst of days have little bits of joy in them.
This brings me back to mindfulness. Allowing myself to reflect on the little moments that build my days, highlight what's important to me at a very acute level. I can see trends, significance behind the highs and lows, and learn more about myself as I track these moments. I now seek to replicate with intrigue the highs, exploring how to iterate the things that bring happiness to my life, while removing what experiences, foster the bad. This exploratory adventure into creating my own happiness and the path that I follow has helped me understand how to move forward and build the life I want, addressing what roadblocks will stand in my way and finding new ways to observe, challenge and continue onward.
I've been doing a lot of reading lately, in an effort to reteach my brain to focus on one thing at a time, in a world that's ever-changing. The concept of mindfulness was brought back into my life in Kelsey Miller's incredible "Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life", a book I can't recommend enough. In her case, she found mindfulness from Intuitive Eating, and learning to enjoy food, savor the experience of eating and listening to her body to tell her what she wanted. The recognition of listening to her body helped her understand so much more about who she was as a person. I really found resonance in her discussions about the constant distractions we create for ourselves, shutting out the world and our inner thoughts with music, television binges and not addressing the issues that we struggle with. It felt as if mindfulness had become the focus for her life, and inspired me to try and live as mindful as possible.
Addressing the highs and lows of the day, living with "intent" and purpose that each action should be enjoyed fully and almost solely, has helped me develop a sense of self. It's a process, and on most days more of a struggle, to consciously leave my "world" aka phone, on the table upside down while I watch television, instead of scrolling through Instagram absentmindedly. Or remove my headphones to enjoy a chapter or two of Outlander on my commute to work, or listen, full-minded listen to a new album or podcast. Hell, even at the office, focusing in on the task at hand, not worried about who liked my recent status update on Facebook, or what email I needed to draft up, or meetings I have in the afternoon. Being mindful of each moment, each action and what my mind, body and soul need to do is a journey. Being able to fully enjoy and appreciate the journey, having log of each step on the climb, is encouraging and seeing progress, not only within what goes into the daily notes, but within myself overtime has been incredible.
Being mindful has helped me learn more about the person I am and who I want to be. While each day hasn't lead to new revelations, being able to look back at the little bits I've learned about what makes me happy/sad throughout the last six months, I can weed out the toxic, refocus the energy spent on things that don't make me complete in search of joy and happiness. Exploring new ways to enjoy my own company and the company of others in the present and not on the alternate universe we all struggle so hard to live in. Mindfulness has taught me more about the "little things" that make up a day, how their importance falls in cadence with the grand picture that we all wish to fall into place in front of us. To enjoy the moments that life throws at us, learn from them and embark looking for more, that's real life.
So to charge us all going forward, think of things that make you happy. Write them down, or find ways to do them, 100% do them with intent to get the most happiness from them. Take note on the things that would categorize as "bad", how does your role play into them? Can you prevent them from happening again or was it a situation out of your control. Acknowledge it and then put it in the past. Try to resist the tiny distractions, hell, schedule time to enjoy social media, with intent! Browse with want, not with need to distract yourself from doing something menial. Put all of yourself into the relationships that matter, your phone wont blow up over brunch. Evaluate the relationships that end up being an energy suck more than an add, even if those are the ones you crave. Find time to be alone with your thoughts. What do you think about yourself? What can you keep the same? What might need to change and how can you do it positively? How can you make the most out of each day?
Seems like quite the To-Do list, huh? Well, it doesn't have to be so hard. Start with the simple, like I did, or even just mindfully acknowledging how you live each day. What started out as a "thing" I thought I'd find tedious and quick to drop, ended up being something I look forward to every day. What I've also learned to love is the quiet moments, just after I've finished my daily lists, in which I reflect on the day. What used to be "sleep to avoid the day" is now "sleep to prepare for the day", setting myself up for the positive, but accepting that negative will come and I'm well equipped to handle it. Whether this be something you try once and hate, or something you end up enjoying, find time for yourself. Time that's just yours, to be alone with your thoughts. You'll never know how brilliantly wonderful you are if you don't look!