Hamster Wheel vs. Waterfall

I had a nice weekend, although very busy.

On Friday we drove out to Scott’s parent’s house, about 45 minutes from us and unlike our downtown city dwelling, they live on 40 acres in the country. It is such a great counter-balance to our daily life. (Both places, we equally enjoy and love.) I recently read that spending time in nature – or even listening to the sounds of nature – makes you 5% calmer. I am a believer!

Scott wanted to do some fishing and I went along as the cheerleader. However, after getting there I saw that they needed a little mowing done. I absolutely love mowing their property. They own a zero-turn riding mower that I have already claimed is the only thing I want in their will. Truly, it is like heaven to me. The noise forces me into my head to think and mull over ideas. And at the same time, there is a great deal of instant gratification, seeing the neat lines of mowed grass in my wake. A true sense of accomplishment – both internally and externally. The fact that I am also getting a good suntan while I’m at it is BONUS! 🙂 After 3+ hours I finished the sections I set out to mow and felt both physically exhausted and mentally renewed.

On Saturday, Scott and I had a bunch of our friends over to our house (the first time some of them have been there) to play games, catch up and eat lots of great food. Rachel and Brenda, in particular, are exceptional cooks and Joy walked us each through the making of some new-to-us drinks. It was a fabulous evening. Of course…like any time we have company over…I was over-the-top picky about how everything looked. We deep cleaned and rearranged and the whole time I kept saying to Scott, “I know this is ridiculous, but…” and he never questioned the absurdity of my thinking – partly because he knows me too well by now and (hopefully) he knows there is usually some method behind my madness.

On Sunday, as a result of two physically packed days, I was dead tired. I didn’t do much of anything on Sunday (Scott was up and out the door by 3:30am for work.) I generally ate crappy food all day and by the evening I was feeling the after affects of all.that.crap. I say allllllll of the above to say this: I had a mindfulness fail on Sunday evening…

The backstory is that I had a VERY unexpected, out of the blue, totally surprising heart attack when I was 45 years old. And since that time, my Panic Mode is set to ‘heart attack’. Whenever anything goes wrong, I immediately think it’s my heart. This is not a healthy way to live. And it certainly is not a good way to occupy my mind. The ‘panic’ is always internal and begins a hamster wheel of thoughts spinning in my head. (previously referred to as Monkey Mind by Dan Harris or as Anne Lamott calls it, Bad Mind.) By Sunday evening I made the simple, unimpressive comment to Scott: ‘Something feels off.’ Three words. That’s it. Three little words that represented 112,980,258,123,904,872,304,978+ words happening in my brain. For anyone who has a similar crazy mind panicky situation you know that the harder you try to relax and brush it aside, the stronger the panicky grip digs in deeper. I opted to go to bed fairly early, hoping sleep would take away the thoughts and worries.

I woke up this morning with the resolve to do myself the huge mental favor of eating healthier and getting back to learning more about meditation. I was mentally letting myself off the hook.

I bought the book, ‘Why is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling’ over the weekend and began reading it this morning. I’d like to make a separate post about some of my thoughts so far about it. The upside is that the many thoughts surrounding the book kept my mind engaged and occupied all morning.

This afternoon I put in my well-loved-but-rarely-used Tai Chi DVD. I don’t know how Tai Chi classes go or how different they all are or if I am even ‘doing it right’. But I have bonded with this DVD teacher and his methods. Quite honestly, I rarely get passed the beginning stage of Qi Gong. Someday I will feel so confident in that section that I will move on to the actual Tai Chi practice. But what usually happens is that I let too much time lapse between practices and feel like I just need to do the warm-up section for awhile to get my body used to it. Rationalization?, perhaps. But the warm-up alone opens up some creaky joints and muscles for me.

After doing the Qi Gong, I sat for a section of mindfulness from the 10% Happier app. This particular lesson was about Mental Noting. The teacher, Joseph Goldstein, talked about the thoughts that pop into our minds when we try to meditate. Instead of fighting them or ‘just let them go’, Goldstein suggested instead that we ‘just let them be.’ When we have a thought about food we can quietly ‘whisper’ in our mind one descriptive word: ‘hunger’. Or if I start thinking about my to do list for the day and what I need to get done I can think the word ‘work’. One word to correspond with the thoughts that are leading us away from our mindfulness meditation. ‘Sadness’, ‘itch’, ‘relationship’…whatever the word is that we use to describe our thoughts they work to bring us back to the moment and away from the competing thoughts. Dan Harris used the analogy of a waterfall. When we stand behind a waterfall we can see the waterfall – which represents our flowing stream of thought. When, in meditation, we are able to get out of the cascading stream of water and stand Behind the Waterfall, we can recognize the thoughts without getting caught up in them.

Mindfulness definition: The ability to know what is happening in your head right now without getting carried away by it.

Humans are classified as homo sapien sapien which means the one who thinks and knows he/she thinks.

You build your thoughtfulness muscle through mindfulness by seeing what you are thinking as only a passing thought. We can see and identify our thoughts and impulses and urges without blindly reacting to them.

One of the ‘goalposts’ that happens with me when I am spending a couple of minutes meditating…but doesn’t always happen…is when there is a few moments of silence then the leader says something and scares.me.to.death -ha! I am so concentrated on the here and now that I am startled by the person guiding the meditation. Without fail, I feel better about everything after meditating. Whether it’s psychological or physical – or both – it doesn’t matter. There are endorphins and a general sense of peace that happens each time.

As someone who has been deeply immersed in Christianity all my life, I have to wonder if we (Christians) have sold some things short. I wonder if we have been too quick to dismiss many of the religious practices we would consider ‘alternative’ in the past. Yes, God wants to communicate with us through prayer. But prayer is an active state of asking and thanking and talking and listening. But what if prayer was originally intended to also assist in our physical well-being. To slow our heart rate and clear our crazy hamster-wheel mind? What if mindfulness goes hand in hand with the well-known Scripture in Psalms 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ In one translation it says, ‘Cease striving and know that I am God.’ I have to wonder if we should be taking our prayer life to a completely different level by including our physical bodies as well as our spiritual souls.

Just as I believe Christians have historically been the worst about environmental issues – because we believe this to be our temporary home and that we will someday go to live with God in our eternal home – I think the same can be said of our temporary earthly bodies. Our bodies were a beautifully intricate gift from God! We have polluted and corrupted our physical bodies and minds.

My understanding of ‘prayer’ is greatly expanding beyond the kitschy acronym of ACTS (Adoration, Confess, Thanksgiving and Supplication.) My previous understanding of prayer was a two-way communication with God – an active activity. I believe God also wants us to stop and heal our minds through silent moments of meditation. Borrowing from some of the Buddhist practices might be a way of better connecting with the creator of our body, mind and soul…


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