What I Mean When I Talk About Mindfulness

For some, mindfulness means meditation. Full-on, lotus positioned, deep-breathing, Oṃ-humming, gazing-at-the-third-eye clearing of the mind’s static. To me that sounds more like mind-emptiness.

Keeping my mind full

Hence a full mind, or mindfulness, describes not only my mental state but a necessary condition for keeping my sanity. I discovered this in 2002 while doing research for a novel. Having read Yogananda’s AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI as a way to have more in common with a man I’d obsessively (and unrequitedly) loved back in high school and to whom I was now emailing long, soulful narratives, I found my attempts at meditation agonizing and, ultimately, a complete blow-out. Pious ex-Catholic that I was, I self-flagellated for a brief time before realizing something. My creative process requires an open portal that shares the same hours with 7-Eleven. Back then I spent the majority of my free time happily chain-smoking and brooding, in coffee shops, Greek diners, at home, it didn’t matter where I was. Idle hands, active mind. Those moments are my fondest memories. For such a champion procrastinator, meditating is grueling work, not to mention an unwelcome interruption. Worse still, you get no reward for having done it. This is where I’m more dog than human. At least give me a cookie. A cheap one like Milk-Bone, the gateway biscuit. Or sawdust if you’re on a really tight budget. Something.

I like static

But that wouldn’t help much, either. Even if I could master meditation and clear the static, why would I want to? I like static. I need it to think up what to write about. Ideas come at me from unlikely sources. I might watch a cat video where a book title is visible on a nearby shelf, which reminds me of something entirely unrelated, which gives me an idea for an essay. The process of association is endless. Clearing it away might quiet the mind, but so does a frontal lobotomy. You might argue that meditating is more like clearing your browser’s recent history and a lobotomy is like the blue screen of death. I’d only have to re-enter my username and passwords. But that would cut into my precious idleness binge-watching Madam Secretary and, since I quit smoking, eating fish tacos. While mine is a busy brain often tortured by memories that evoke anger, pain, and rage, I feel not the slightest inclination to tell it to shut up.

Emotions are normal

Emotions are normal. I’ve never been afraid to feel. Each feeling has a voice and permission to be heard. But the gab sessions in my head are not conducted like group therapy. My feelings are not that well-behaved, nor do I feel the need to moderate the discussion. Now anger, don’t interrupt pain while she’s talking. You’ve had your turn. I only intervene if they can’t work it out by themselves, but that’s pretty rare. Sarcasm is allowed. Since I have a developed sense of humor, all my emotions do, too. Like whenever joy lays it on a bit thick, anger and pain might mock her. They squabble but it soon blows over. They trust each other. Nobody gets to feel superior. I’ve always treated them like they are equals.

A change of mood

My mind is never over-filled. If I feel overwhelmed, what I might need is a change of mood, not an eraser sponge. Aren’t we all prone to taking ourselves too seriously? Multiple sclerosis can do that to us, the little dickens. it can be like a demanding toddler that you can’t boot out in the cold and it knows it. But a shift in perspective, tone, even language can tap on the mind’s window and distract it from itself without even changing the subject. Once I took a phrase from one of those toddler rants and pulled up an audio version of the Portuguese translation online. Portuguese is a beautiful-sounding language, just like Italian. My focus shifted from the meaning to the sound of the words.

The mind has no boundaries, just like the universe. My capacity for empathy and acceptance started with myself and just keeps expanding. Generosity is mindfulness at its most sublime.

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