Welcome to Mindfulness for a Messy Life

July 10, 2016

Cupcake pic

First the “Messy”

Having travelled many a mile on the twisty, turny (often torturous), path of self-discovery–tripping, stumbling, lurching headlong down many a rocky road and into any number of snake pits in an attempt to make some sense of my existence, I’ve developed something of a nose for what actually works (to lighten, perhaps even elucidate our proverbial load)—and what doesn’t.

As any well-worn seeker, I’ve spent my share of time, energy, and resources (both the internal and hard-cash varieties), in search of the ‘one thing’ that would fix all the brokenness, and neaten all the messiness of my life. As you may have guessed, I didn’t find it. As it turns out (surprise, surprise!) there is no one single answer to life’s many complex questions, nor is there a healer, guru, religious dogma or spiritual leader (however inspired and inspiring) that can offer a viable antidote to the trials and tribulations of the human experience. It is fortunate then, that we are possessed (I believe) of the skills necessary to elevate what we can’t fix, learn where we can’t heal, and make meaning, even where we can’t make sense.

And Now the Mindful

Firstly, let me say that I am a big fan of the Buddhist-inspired practice of what has been termed (relatively) recently in the West as “mindfulness”. The word itself feels like a mini mantra to me, as though its very utterance gently nudges you a smidge closer to that oh-so-elusive but wildly delicious present moment. In case the term is new for you (though I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, it is not), mindfulness, as I understand and experience it, is a gentle resting of our attention on what is happening within and around us, without judgment. It informs our way of being in the world, our way of being with ourselves, which, over time, results in greater self and social awareness, ease with ourselves and others, and more thoughtful action and interaction–the essential building blocks of that most useful Emotional Intelligence. But this minute-by-minute, hour by hour, day by day practice takes some real work (in my case, a near constant reigning in of about 1000 wild horse thoughts per second!) and can feel at times, just plain impossible.

Our Built-in ‘Argh’

Now I find that the hard stuff, all manner of misfortune, and any and all causes of ‘argh!’ seem to grab vice-like hold of my attention sans struggle, while the good stuff has to fight tooth and nail for a front seat in my consciousness. I’d long thought this inclination was due to my own faulty wiring but as it turns out, according to the latest research in neuroscience, the human brain is hardwired to register and remember negative events more quickly and deeply than positive ones. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson offers a little clarity on this “negativity bias” as he refers to it: our brain “scans for, reacts to, stores, and recalls negative information about oneself and one’s world. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. The natural result is a growing – and unfair – residue of emotional pain, pessimism, and numbing inhibition in implicit memory.” Implicit memory being our emotional or somatic/gut level memory, which, unlike our explicit memory (which recalls specific events), is “visceral, felt, powerful, and rooted in the fundamental and ancient – reptile and early mammal – structures of your brain.”

More, more…and more?

So, I’m not alone—yay! We’re all wired for negativity—not-so-yay. It does help to explain though, why I so often find myself plowing through the sweet moments, whizzing past the beautiful, unconsciously dismissing anything that comes easily or naturally (gotta earn it with at least a little suffering or sweat no??). But then of course, the mind (the ‘software’ to the brain’s ‘hardware’) is inclined to create a narrative to support this unfortunate chemistry—which in my case suggests that taking time to just ‘be’ with the good is downright self-indulgent.

As a long time activist/advocate (of various social and environmental causes) and self employed single parent of a glorious little being with a sizable personality and some challenging health issues, I have an ever present nagging sense that I should be doing ‘more’. More emails, more calls, more networking, more work to get more work, more (or rather more precise and productive) research on healing my son’s confounding condition, more healthcare inquiries, more time cooking (though hour-wise this would already qualify as a part time job!), more cleaning, more play date planning, and just generally, more earning of my place on the planet.

Notes on a “Messy Life”

With all the time (and I’m talking decades here) I’ve spent on the aforementioned ‘twisty’ path (or perhaps I should say ‘paths’) of self-discovery, all the years in search of the coveted present moment, eons inspecting, dissecting the process of my personal evolution (and occasionally, devolution), I thought it about time to give myself a forum (by way of this blog) to share some thoughts on this most confounding/illuminating journey—especially as I know I’m far from alone in the particulars of my struggle.

Time to soak up some yum

And though due time will surely be spent here wrestling with ‘challenge’ part of the life equation, I want to give equal screen time to all the many ideas, tools, and resources, that can help, heal, bolster, benefit, beautify, embolden, and empower us on our respective journeys. And to give shout outs to the many inspiring people, organizations, authors, magazines (thank you Good News Network and Upworthy), and businesses helping to give humanity a good name. No, I’m not looking to don rosy shades, but rather to offer a little counterbalance to the constant influx of negative input we get on a daily basis. And that is really the ultimate ‘Why’ of this blog; to pay real, meaningful attention to what works–absorb it, apply it, pay it forward, inward, every which way-ward.

Science says “Yes!” to yum!

The wildly inspiring (and previously quoted Rick Hanson, Ph.D.) suggests that “By tilting toward the good – “good” in the practical sense of that which brings more happiness to oneself and more helpfulness to others – you merely level the playing field. You’ll still see the tough parts of life. In fact, you’ll become more able to change them or bear them if you tilt toward the good, since that will help put challenges in perspective, lift your energy and spirits, highlight useful resources, and fill up your own cup so you have more to offer to others. And now..instead of positive experiences washing through you like water through a sieve, they’ll collect in implicit memory deep down in your brain. In the famous saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more you get your neurons firing about positive facts, the more they’ll be wiring up positive neural structures.”

This is the kind of mindfulness I want to practice. A gentle resting of my attention on those things that “wire up” the positive neural structures, that help to create a solid, supportive foundation for building a rich, nutritious, if wildly messy life.

Thanks for reading and have yourself a delicious (or at least mildly tasty) day!

Elizabeth

Ps. Check out some of my Resources Galore on the right!