Being Mindful in September

Hi everyone! I am really, REALLY excited for this month’s challenge, which is brought to me by my friend, Julia.

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Isn’t she lovely???

For the month of September, I will have to practice some mindfulnessIf you’re not really sure what mindfulness is, it generally means focusing on and accepting your present state without judgement. Mindfulness is about getting out of your head and being present, and its something we all could use a bit more of. Think about it, when was the last time you really stopped and focused on the act of brushing your teeth? Can you recall the last time you really savored every bite of a meal without distractions? In my own experience, I know that I live my life “in my head.” I’m constantly thinking about things other than what I’m doing, and I have the tendency to harbor thoughts that are self-critical, judgmental, or all together unhelpful. I’m the kind of person who races from one thought to another, like I have a bunch of ADD bunnies skipping across my neurotransmitters.

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Always being in my head has really shaped my life. On one hand, it has really helped me in my personal, academic/professional, and intellectual life. Since most of the work I create is intellectual, being able to think (and think A LOT) has been helpful (not to mention necessary). When reading academic work, I can think and read simultaneously. When writing, I can think about what has to logically come next and what still needs to be explained, making writing  a significantly easier and more enjoyable task. Also, I really like thinking about things. Thinking is enjoyable to me, it’s a nice way to spend my time. I really like pushing myself to think about new things and learning through imagination. I’m one of the few people I know (apart from other academics) that regularly engages in thought experiments.  Yes, there IS such a thing as thought experiments. They’re awesome.

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But being an overactive thinker has also contributed to my life in some negative ways. Chiefly, runaway thoughts have often been a symptom/cause of anxiety for me. I have the potential to be overwhelmed with thoughts about how everything can go wrong, then start imagining all those scenarios playing out. Because I am an active thinker, I can begin to imagine these horrible situations in vivid detail, like a movie playing in my head that seems real. I can, instantly and involuntarily, visualize my plane crashing, my health declining, loved ones dying, being humiliated in my profession, and more – and all in the span of about 5 minutes. In addition, my active thinking has sometimes caused strains in my interpersonal relationships, mostly because I can get so lost in my own thought-world that I lose focus on the people around me.

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So this month’s challenge will push me to get out of my head. Here’s what Julia had to say about the motivation behind the challenge.

The challenge for you this month is to engage with more mindfulness and learn to be still, especially mentally still. It’s about learning to slow down, and be in your body, and be mindful of what’s going on without being in your “intellectual brain.” So to be more in your “body mind” (as opposed to your “thinking mind”). I have noticed that you tend to intellectualize your experiences. And although I LIKE that you are intellectual and think a lot, I think that you could benefit from being able to periodically disengage from that. Learning how to periodically stop thinking is valuable, and it doesn’t have to be anti-intellectual. I think this seems like a natural continuation of your last month’s challenge to let go of control. Mindfulness is a way of acknowledging our lack of control sometimes. And it can also make way for some spontaneity. Because if you’re in your body you can embrace what’s going on in the here and now. 

Much like last month’s challenge, I will have to do a series of things to get me out of my head. In addition to these tasks, I will also be prohibited from multitasking for the duration of the month. Here are Julia’s rules for multitasking:

Well first, let’s acknowledge that there’s no such thing as multitasking. Nobody’s actually capable of doing two things at once, you’re always just diverting your attention between two things. But that’s not the same as having something going on in the background that isn’t getting your attention, it’s just kind of there in the background. So when you eat and watch TV, or talk on the phone while in front of a computer, then you’re dividing your attention. You pay attention to one thing for a second and then switch attention to the other thing, back and forth. Or you’re letting something become background and not paying attention to it at all. So what I’m asking you to do is be mindful of the fact that you might be dividing your attention, keep your attention on one topic at a time, and if you switch between them then be mindful of the fact that you’re switching from one to another, and make it a conscious choice. So generally I think you should avoid eating and watching TV, being on your phone/computer while watching TV, messing with your phone while driving, being on your phone while walking, stuff like that. Or when you’re working, if you have a tendency to let your mind wander or get distracted and go from thing to thing, then I would try to reign that in. And if you find that not being able to be distracted is disruptive to you, then we should talk about it to see what about your writing process is making you want to be distracted. And it’s less about disciplining yourself and more about being aware. You don’t want to discipline or judge yourself, you want to be aware and make a conscious decision to do something or not. 

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Whoa. That was insightful. 

In addition to no multitasking, I’ll also have to do the following.

  • Engage in mindfulness meditation 2-3 times a week all month (10-15 minutes each; if I go to meditative yoga/tai chi once a week that will count for one meditation session)
  • Attend at least 1 class of MIMSY yoga (a form of gentle, Hatha yoga. It stands for “Meditation in Movement Style Yoga)
  • Spend 1 weekend without clocks (The intention for this is to have me tune into my body and follow what my body is signaling it needs. For example, eat when hungry rather than because “it’s time,” sleep until my body wakes up, go to bed when my body feels tired. Also, I’m supposed to do what my body wants to do without making set plans, just see how I feel. As Julia phrased it: “Just try to tune into what you want or need and not let your regular life dictate the schedule.”
  • Spend 1 weekend practicing intuitive eating (more details on this later)
  • At some point, go out and be in nature. More importantly, be still in nature.

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At the end of the challenge, here is what Julia hopes I’ll get out of the experience:

I’m hoping you’ll be able to understand how to be mindful when you want it, and be able to appreciate when people tell you that you’re being in your head too much without it meaning you’re being too intellectual. And I’m hoping you’ll be able to experience a moment of stillness in nature, and then be able to tap into that sense whenever you want to. 

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I am SO JAZZED about this month’s challenge. I think its going to be amazing. Just being mindful of my multitasking over the last few days has been crazy. I multitask WAY more than I thought! I can’t wait to keep practicing mindfulness this month, I know I’m going to learn a lot! Awesome!!

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