There is so much out there, these days, about being mindful; about being in the moment. There is even a Mindfulness for Dummies book (I confess that I have it on my bookshelf although I have yet to read it).
I recall the first time I was seeing a psychologist, back in the mid-nineties. How and why I came to call him for help – crying my eyes out during the entire phone conversation – is a story in itself, best left for another post. He would be my first therapist but definitely not my last. Six months after I began treatment, my ex asked for a divorce. When I came in for my next therapy session, sobbing uncontrollably, I wailed that I was so glad I had already been working on myself for a bit before this happened. “Oh, Patti,” he said gently, “You may not have realised it, but that’s why you came here in the first place. You did see this coming. You just didn’t know it yet.”
I must have gone to bi-weekly sessions for three years. And at some point, I began to slowly see the results. My therapist told me, at one of my final sessions, that he had never had a patient work harder. The thing is, I was highly motivated: a single Mom with two young children depending on her to be sane, strong, loving and ‘put together’; letting my children down was not an option for me.
One of the many things that my therapist and I worked on was ‘being in the moment’ and I just wasn’t getting it. “Just focus on what is happening in the now,” my therapist recommended. I tried. I really did. I recall getting into my vehicle on a dark, rainy day after one of my sessions, sitting in silence in my parked car. “Concentrate!” I ordered myself, as I willed myself to watch the raindrops falling on the windshield. “You can do this!” My hands were clenched. My stomach was tensed. Sweat popped out on my forehead. It was really hard work, but I managed, for a few seconds, to do nothing but watch those drops falling on the windshield. And then my tired brain gave up. I was mentally exhausted.
I am not sure how much time passed after that first feeble attempt at mindfulness, but one day, as I exited the building where my therapist had his office, I stopped dead, just outside the door, looking around in wonder. I can’t really explain what happened to me that day except to say that the entire world was transformed, like I was seeing everything clearly for the first time. For as far as my eyes could see, everything looked crisp. And radiantly clear. The trees were glorious; the sky vibrant. Each and every car going past stood out in perfect relief; chrome shining, paint bright, tires spinning around. I could feel the warm summer breeze on my face; almost taste the air. I have no idea how long I just stood there, mesmerised, before a few passersby jostled around me because I was blocking the sidewalk, and the moment passed. I slipped back into myself and slowly made my way to my car, trying to determine what had just happened. I had perfect vision back in those days so the way I had suddenly seen the world around me was not a physical thing. It was, instead, as though I had spent my entire life in a mental fog that had somehow been lifted.
And that’s the really interesting part: up to that point, most of my life, I had felt muddled and a little blurry around the edges: never quite in my body. I was fascinated by a recent post by Walk a Myelin* My Shoes, who described the fogginess of people with an illness (5 Tips: How to Converse with a ‘Foggy’). She described it as the feeling that your brain is drowning in cotton; being thrown off if a person suddenly changes the subject; having difficulty articulating – or even recalling – a complete thought if interrupted; experiencing issues with processing or comprehending. Her description called to me because that was exactly how I used to see the world; how I still sometimes see the world, especially if I am nervous or uncomfortable. I do not have a physical illness but I have battled depression and anxiety for some time. And I suspect you could probably throw a smattering of PTSD into the mix as well. My friends all know that I can be a bit ‘out of it’; that I would rather write them my deepest thoughts than try to explain them; that the lights are on but I am often worlds away. Back in the nineties, if I wasn’t at work and focussing like crazy, ‘fogginess’ was my usual mental state. My body was in the room, going through the necessary motions, but my mind was far away, swimming in cotton.
As I read Amanda’s post, I realised that what I was seeing that day as I exited my therapy session was ‘the moment’; ‘the now’; what is. I was, I expect, being mindful for the first time since I had been a small child.
It would be many, many more years before I would get the gift of mindfulness on a daily, almost constant basis. I suffered, three years ago now, an adrenal exhaustion that forced me into early retirement and left me sitting in a chair, staring out the window, for close to a year. Weakened and exhausted, I had little choice but to live in the moment. But what a blessing that has been for me: I see now, in retrospect, that my burnout has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.
I will never have the energy I once had. I will always tire easily. But I am here. In the now. And the world is spectacular…
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com