Once again it’s Sunday evening, and over the past six weeks I have had an opportunity to experiment with mindfulness strategies, with six approaches for being present, for being “in the moment.”
What have I learned?
I call this blog “Lab Notes” because of my relationship between writing and the world. Lab notes are something that scientists keep. Scientists are curious about the world, and they keep lab notes to record their progress, their observations, their thoughts, their questions, their understanding of the thing they study. Scientists study things to to learn about things they don’t know yet, and to deepen their understanding of things they do know. Scientists often do experiments as they study something new in the world. Scientists, along with everyone else in this world, are trying to make sense of what is happening around them.
As are writers.
So, in calling my blog “Lab Notes” I am trying to make sense of what is happening around me. Whether it is in a fiction sketch, a poetic snippet, or an essay like this one, I am exploring – through my writing – what the world means and what it is like to be in this world.
And that brings me to mindfulness.
So many people have shared with me their own yoga, meditation, or faith-based practices of mindfulness, and especially gratitude. As human beings we are so easily distracted by the things that are going wrong, distracted by problem-solving and how to make it better, that we are not in the habit of noticing what is already good, what is going well, what we have to be thankful for. Writing is a way of noticing everything, especially in the small details, and it is a way of making sense of it. It is a way of being in the world.
As is mindfulness.
This week: Feel gratitude
This week’s strategy was Feel Gratitude – and a number of people responded that they keep a gratitude journal, in which they write down things they are grateful for, as a way of noticing the gifts and small pleasures they enjoy in their lives. For myself, I found myself blending in some of the other strategies with gratitude this week, like making a flavorful stew, a stew that gave me a richly comforting experience in which I could savor the moment. (Is that too many cooking metaphors? Oh well!) For instance:
- Taking a daily walk with my nineteen-year-old son, I reminded myself that I do feel grateful that he still enjoys my company and looks forward to our time together. I often remind myself of my intention: to spend time with my child and to feel my body moving across the earth. Along the way I try to notice the splash of the little waterfalls in the creek that flows through the urban forest park we are walking in, the sound of the water that I find so delicious.
- Feeling frustrated about getting stuck by a creative block on one of my writing projects this week, I decided to mentally back and remind myself I’m lucky to have the time in my day to work on a creative project, that many many people in the world do not have time for creative activity like I do, and that even if I’m feeling stuck, I am confident that I will have the time and the imagination to eventually work it out. I tell myself that my intention is to express my creativity and imagination through something brand-new, that no one has ever seen or read before. – and how exciting that is!
- Recently my little amateur jazz combo met to rehearse – I play piano – and some of the other musicians emphasized how important it is to get good enough on our pieces to “play out” in an open mic night, etc. Being goal-oriented, at first I was swept up in their directive conversation. But as we started to play, I reminded myself that music – especially jazz, is a brand-new song every time you play; that improvisation is all about writing the music as you go, about not having pre-conceived or pre-written music to perform, but about expressing yourself creatively through the notes you play. The essential experience and beauty of our music was in the playing, in the feel of interacting with each other musically, and in having made an original creative imaginative thing that had not existed before.
- Week 1 – Intent: What is your intent as you do a task?
- Week 2 – Details: What are the little details of what’s around you?
- Week 3 – Breathing: Take 3 deep breaths when stressed.
- Week 4 – Move your body: Take a walk or stretch to take a break from feeling overwhelmed.
- Week 5 – Create white space: Block out time to do what you want to do, not what you “have” to do.
- Week 6 – Feel gratitude: Stop and acknowledge how much you have, the blessing and abundance of being alive.
Now for the hard part: how to bring it all together. Or is it?
Remember back a couple of weeks ago, when I said I was going to try visiting the library and browsing, like you do in a bookstore? These are the library chairs where I sat and wrote about my experience (below). Don’t they look welcoming? Wouldn’t you like to sit down and with a good book and read, just read, for an hour or two? Perhaps the only thing better might be if someone brought you lunch and a hot cup of tea . . . but even so, just being there, sitting down and letting the warm inviting space of really good books surround you . . . there is something so comforting about it. Let’s make a pact to come back sometime and talk about libraries and books and the printed page and ideas and imaginary worlds and sweet images that poets bring us. It will be an adventure.