This weekend, I heard yet another podcast about mindfulness (in Portuguese), and I realized I had never explicitly reflected on mindfulness, e.g., I had never explicitly written my thoughts about it. And maybe you think that is normal, someone living at the speed of light can’t be mindful, so what could I possibly write about it. But I will have to disappoint you there. Indeed over time, I have learnt to be mindful, but perhaps I called it something else.
The paper in front of my eyes
I remember the day sitting in Catia’s office as if it was today (those days when you saw your therapist in person rather than over zoom). She does not tell me what she is trying to explain to me, but she asks me to hold a piece of paper in front of my face and try and talk to her at the same time. She is pretending to be Little Girl C calling my attention. Trying from everywhere around the piece of paper. But I can’t move it from my face, it is just there inches away. I struggle to pay attention. I am frustrated because I can’t see the piece of paper, nor can I see hear what Little Girl C (or in this case Catia) are saying.
“If you always have a paper in front of your eyes, how can you be present?”
Learning how to be
Being became one of the concepts I developed during Round 1 of my therapy. I say Round 1 because 6 years later I find myself in Round 2, and I am conscious I may need different rounds through my 100-year life (yes, I plan to go on for 100 years!). For Round 1, Catia focused on addressing my perfectionism (haha, what a surprise), but more importantly my ability to just be rather than doing all the time. How can I be, I wondered.
It was all a bit foreign to me, I must admit, but overtime, I got the picture. Being was just sitting on the floor playing a game without running through my to-do list in my mind. Or going out to dinner with friends without worrying about what I still had to finish for work when I got home. Being was just being at work without thinking about what I was missing out on in school or another project. Being was simple – it was really just that, without any frills. Any FOMO. Can you imagine ME doing that?
From FOMO to JOMO
Fear of Missing Out is real. I see it even on my Little Girl C. It drives me nuts. It’s about the next and not about the now. As I look at her I recognise so much of my old behaviours. Or my odd behaviours I must admit. I am healing, but certainly not cured. Someone like me will also have FOMO and then slowly use awareness to move to JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out.
So how did I go from F to J you may wonder? Values and priorities are what allow you to stop being afraid of what you are missing out on. So that suddenly you can be joyful about what you are missing out and, by definition, be joyful about where you are, about being. It took some soul searching and some establishment (yes, on paper), of what I valued in life and what role I wanted different parts of it to play. My relationship with Hubby B, with my children, my friends, my family, my colleagues, my work, my charity, and the list goes on.
Looking back, had I not gone through this process back in 2016, I could have struggled more in 2020. But indeed, lockdown gave me yet another chance to get closer to what I truly valued, given alternatives were limited – which is why the end of lockdown can create some anxiety in me. I am afraid FOMO can return.
Is JOMO mindfulness?
You need JOMO to be mindful. That’s my belief. Because it is important you don’t try to be somewhere else in your mind. There are a few activities that make me mindful, though I don’t have a 100% hit ratio in all:
- Writing – there is rarely a moment where I am more present than when I write. In fact, I have tried to write while Hubby B watched TV next to me, and that can often end up in me being angry at him an hour later when I realize I did not put 2 words together. Not his fault really. Writing requires my full attention, and that is how I enjoy doing it.
- Strategizing – when someone starts engaging with me about their business, my brain focuses and goes. All I want is to talk about it, ask questions, engage. I am fully there. Whilst I struggle to slow down my brain, that does not mean I am not mindful, only that I am in my spark and I truly enjoy what I am doing at that point in time. This is why I am an advocate of people finding their spark at work.
- Parenting (parts of it) – whilst parenting “should” be my #1 mindful activity (isn’t that why I engaged in it?), that is not the case at all times. Parenting is where I most want to be mindful. And whilst it does not come naturally, it is the one where I am more purposeful at it. Without phones, with a journal, with board games, a lengthy bedtime, with time outside for a walk chatting, with 1on1 time, with eye contact, rough playing and lots of tickles. Full engagement. Fully present. And if my phone rings, I probably did not hear it, it was on silent.
There are also less “heavy” activities that can be mindful for me – such as doing a puzzle, listening to a podcast, now even doing my colouring by numbers art. All things that exercise different parts of my brain and require my full attention. Admittedly, some of these lose their grip over time, not because I am bored, but because I am used to it and therefore my brain starts to wonder. So I change activities.
Is mindfulness meditation?
Personally, I don’t think mindfulness and meditation are synonyms. Now, do I think they are related? Yes, probably cousins. Meditation takes mindfulness to the next level. Requires a level of being that I must admit I am not that good at. Sitting and listening without letting my mind wander off. Seeing my thoughts come and go but not let myself go on them. Tough.
I have however experimented with meditation over the last 6 months increasingly so. I mostly use it for sleep, as it is a good way to ensure my brain focuses on something that does not stop me from sleeping – Andy. If you use Headspace, you know who Andy is. If you don’t, you HAVE to check out his voice. It’s perfect. Even my children recite Andy by now. I also use it for nightmares. And, during the tougher times of the last part of the year, to help me do small 1 minute meditations in the middle of the day. I am now even using the focus music when I need to remove myself from all distractions and just do my excel. It’s perfect – placebo effect or not.
So no, I don’t think meditation is compulsory. But if you read enough about it and its benefits, why not try it?
You multi-task and have a bullet journal, you can’t be mindful
I go back to the beginning of the story. How can someone like me even claim to be mindful? My calm moments are spent with my bullet journal ensuring I have my tasks in order and defining what the next thing will be. I get a sense of achievements from getting lots done. So, if you are a “getting-things-done-freak”, how can you also be a “mindfulness-geek”?
Whilst I have not attained geek status in mindfulness yet, indeed I must say it was the bullet journal that allowed me to take the first steps in it. My mind was always full of all I had to do. Invaded by the things I did not want to forget, the new ideas I would have, the calls I had to make, the bills I had to pay, the school activities I had to book. Just writing this is overwhelming.
And with the bullet journal, I found a single organized place to put it on paper, and out of my mind. It was only when I had the peace of mind to know that I did not have to remember everything on my own. And that there was somewhere I could brain dump my worries and things to do, so I could worry about them later and just be. That is when it changed.
That is also when my multi-tasking multiplied and got simplified. I started doing so much more with my life, whilst I was doing it one thing at the time. I became a multi-tasker in life, but not at each point in time. The difference is tremendous.
Finally, the journal also allowed me to be more intentional. By organizing my time in the areas that most mattered to me outside work, I was able to prioritize those areas accordingly. And in time, I added gratitude, habit tracking, goal setting to it. Whilst some of these have nothing to do with mindfulness at all, they had to do with what I valued. And helped me start living what I valued. When you do that, you can be more. Yes, I still do a lot. But I am a lot too
Mindfulness is a choice. One that is hard to make and easier said than done. I don’t claim to be a guru in it. But I claim it can be heart-warming to end the day knowing you were there, you lived that day, you were with the people you were and not somewhere else. Or you spent time with the kids and not pretending to be there scrolling through your email. Being is a choice that is aligned with how I want to live my life – intentionally, and fully. So I try to be mindful of it. And I am.