Some people lose hearts here, but recently, I found my mind. Can you hear Tony Bennett crooning that as you read?
I discovered it in a small room on Divisadero Street. I completed a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class at Osher Center. I am now a mindfulness junkie.
Based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, from which he wrote his transformational Full Catastrophe Living, this class changed my life. But I’m wondering: Is that an entirely good thing?
This MBSR class trained us in body scanning, daily yoga/meditation, and writing exercises listing things we became mindful of as the class progressed. We even did a mindful eating exercise, which was intriguing and vaguely disgusting. We did miles of slow-walking meditations and much talking about our personal discoveries. For eight weeks, we tuned into ourselves, each other, everything we saw, heard, felt, and smelled.
We became aware of how unmindful we all were on a daily basis. It took a layer off the world around us. Everything became clearer. Calmer. Sharper. All that deep breathing and mental focus was relaxing. Still is.
Now, it’s lovely to sit in my bright, cozy home office, built for me off our kitchen by three men who know their way around power tools: ex-hubby, Phillip; his clever partner, Dr. Sheldon Cale; and my helpful husband, Peter. I am mindful of the skill, love, and creativity that fill this space. Gratefully mindful. Nonjudgementally aware.
But then — full catastrophe indeed — my mind’s newly honed lens tightens in on the messy stacked bills; ragged envelopes; file folders bulging with research and Chinese menus; snapshots of Peter, Phillip, my two dogs, my daddy with brother Richard as a 5-year-old, all stuck in odd places; my framed Tony nomination, dusty, ignored, behind the even dustier green lamp; another pile of books constantly threatening to fall over; the smudged windows; the blue glass Buddha from Spirit Rock; the dismaying filth of my computer keyboard, and I wonder: Do I really want to be this mindful? Whose desk is this anyway? Oh yeah, I’m reminded: It’s mine.
When did being mindful become a minefield?
Sublime as it is to bite into a slice of Suzy Cakes, to mindfully taste its dense sweetness, the creamy icing, being ever more mindful, I can now feel the five pounds of butter, the dozen eggs stirred into each forkful, and reflexively practicing the body scan that is part of MBSR, I am excruciatingly mindful of the fat building along my feet, ankles, shins, thighs, tummy, hips, all the way up the scanning route. Now, even my head feels fat.
Suddenly, I am too aware of that cell-phone occupied nanny on Chestnut Street who dangerously straps her 3-year-old charge to the front of the stroller, so the baby girl sits hovering over the sidewalk like the maidenhead on the prow of a ship. And over there, I see all too clearly the woman in six-inch heels destroying her feet. I can now feel her pain. Is this a good thing? I am so aware of all my emotions! Ouch.
Breathing in the sweet morning air on the front stoop of our house, I then feel my skin prickle as a perfectly innocent skateboarder scrapes by; I cook dinner for the house, adore each bite of food, and then no matter how hard I try to use it as a meditation exercise, I experience hating all those dirty dishes afterward. Did I ever despise housekeeping so much before? Probably. But I’ve never been so mindful of it.
I adore life one moment and am bewildered by its every challenge the next. It’s like being on some rare drug all the time, but the drug is my consciousness. There is that marvelous relaxation, the letting go that comes with meditation. But there are these moment-to-moment discoveries. And it’s a roller coaster.
Oh well. I asked for it. In fact, I’m asking for more by beginning another MBSR course this month. It’s that powerful.
Maybe it’ll eventually help me notice that car that’s just beginning to pull out of the parking space I’ve been seeking for an hour.