I have tried mindfulness and meditation many times over the years in its various incarnations. Last year whilst seeing a Psychologist to help support me through the crazier things that have engulfed our life in recent years, impacting my mental health, he got around to the subject of mindfulness.
I tried to supress my deep inhale of breath and the rolling of my eyes and we hurtled towards the theme of meditation, which has just never been my thing. I had noticed the gong on his desk in earlier sessions, but to be honest I had hoped it was just a paperweight. As I mentioned in my first book, the sound of gongs reminds me of the theme tune from ‘Peaky Blinders’ and there is nothing relaxing about that!
He didn’t really seem the meditation type, there was no smell of incense from him and his socks were standard issue navy, no tie-dye in sight! He immediately sensed my scepticism around this market leading saviour of sanity. Assuring me, that he too used to be highly dismissive of this latest craze of achieving a zen like existence by closing your eyes and humming for an hour every day.
However, he had been turned to the practise of mindfulness during a course he had attended a few years ago. I liked and trusted my Psychologist, being very direct and real and always willing to tell me when I just needed to cop on or point out when I was just being a bit of a sap. So, I agreed to give it a try. But I drew the line at gongs and he agreed instead of a gong I could be a technological meditator and use my phone alarm instead.
I was very impressed that that I did actually stick to it for the month he set me as a task, now I probably shouldn’t pat myself on the back too heartily as it was usually done begrudgingly every night just before going to bed and most nights thoughts of what I was going to buy for the Christmas stockings crept into my head by about 87 seconds into the 5 minutes of mindfulness.
But I did it, and in all honesty, I did feel a little calmer, not a lot, but a little – I imagine much like doing sit ups, you need to stick at for more than a month to see the real benefits. On my final session with the Psychologist I agreed that I would continue my 5 minutes of mindfulness every day to assist with my learning to deal with the chaos of my life.
But of course, ‘Mañana’ became my favourite phrase and my daily mindfulness fell by the wayside. I have tried to revive it many times this year, but usually when I am in bed, as soon as I started it I fell asleep or I got distracted by Mick snoring.
My mind often invaded by the question “did I close the utility room window? Did I even open the utility room today, or was it yesterday?” I would of course have to run and check it was closed (it was) and then by the time I got back into bed I either couldn’t be arsed to do the meditation or Mick had rolled over creating a window of opportunity to fall asleep before his snoring started again.
But recently I received a text message asking would I like to join a daily meditation group, just a short 15-20 minute commitment, so I thought what the hell I’ll do it. Being in lockdown means there is no rushing and racing in the mornings so I can actually commit to doing it without the battle raging in mind wondering what is the most effective use of my few spare minutes; one more cuppa / flossing my teeth / a quick yoga Nidra!
I have in fact been enjoying it and have found it very calming (I should point out that we are only on day two). Me being Mrs Cynical, there are a few things I have however observed, (whilst I am meant to be clearing my mind) about the whole process!
In an era of home working, my children have now gotten used to being warned not to enter a room on pain of death – or worse; loss of their tablet for an hour, as Mum/Dad has an important meeting they are on a call to. Now we haven’t completely escaped those uncomfortable moments where our children have become part of our meetings. Mick’s boss asked was our dog ok, when he heard Patrick, our son screeching away in the background stimming away happily in the kitchen.
Erin also burst into our bedroom whilst I was on a 6 person zoom call, to demand that I help her rescue a homeless caterpillar that had become separated from his family. Dad was also apparently on a call and she thought I would be more sympathetic to the plight of the hairy beast stranded on the drive.
Luckily. I am a Youth Worker, so everyone on the call likes children (I think) didn’t seem too concerned by her lack of zoom etiquette as she thrust her big curly head right into the shot, when I was talking about statistics and logic models! It could have been worse, I’ll never forget a skype call with my parents when Patrick at age 2, bouncing butt naked on the bed giving them a full frontal right at the camera.
Completing the meditation requires my children not to burst into the room for 20 minutes, so I can ‘get into the zone’. It does not however stop Patrick from screaming, Dad I’ve spilt milk all over the Playstation at the top of his voice and whilst Mick was cleaning that up, Erin bypassed his security and burst in asking me to zip up her wetsuit so she could go into the paddling pool – this is after all real life. As parents we recognise that we may have to pause our meditation for a quick bit of mediation over who gets to pick their favourite colour Starburst from the packet first.
Day 2 however I managed a full uninterrupted 20 minutes of meditation and I even managed to block out Mick outside the door telling the kids to “be quiet! Mum is meditating” in a louder voice than the three of them put together. Ssssshhing people is hard to do in a library voice, if you want them to actually sssshhhh!
I discovered, or should I say re-discovered, that de-railing meditation is in fact more easily achieved by the meditator (me) than any outside influence. As the meditation practitioner repeated the mantra over and over asking us to do the same, I couldn’t help feel like I do at mass when I don’t have an ‘order of service sheet’. The prayers have a long responses that I don’t know, I manage to repeat them perfectly the first time, but it wanes off as I go on and by the third prayer I’m just mumbling something vaguely coherent, hopefully with the appropriate intonations and a few words that will make sense.
As the guided meditation continues, the practitioner asks us to chant the Hindu mantra, now I’m totally screwed! Much like Irish children’s names, what is written down does not vaguely resemble what it actually sounds like, so as I repeat the Hindu mantra over and over, each time it gets more and more unrecognisable, rather like a game of Chinese whispers after a few bottles of prosecco.
What I am chanting by the end of the meditation was meant to be something about ‘creating my own abundance from an infinite source.’ What I am actually chanting probably translates as ‘can I have a big bag of chips with curry sauce!’ But I continue, knowing that in this case it is the thought that counts –although my head is actually meant to be empty of thoughts!
As the mediation ends, (with a bloody gong), the practitioner invites us to gently open our eyes when we are ready. In the spirit of relaxation and calm, I resist the urge to snap open my eyes immediately and run over and tick off ‘meditate’ from my daily ‘to do’ list. Recognising that it being a tick box exercise removes any value from it all.
I begin to think about the abundance that we are appreciating through this process. I really got something out of the task we were given, writing down the names of 50 people in my life that have supported my development. Enjoying memories of the many people who have had a positive influence over the years.
My attention span is short. I got to about 30 names before my mind started to wander towards the abundance of washing on my utility room table waiting to be put away for the last 2 weeks, only being disturbed when someone needed a clean pair of pants or spotted a long lost sock to match their buddy that is the only one left in the drawer, waiting to be reunited.
But even the abundance of ‘laundry in lockdown’ doesn’t keep my attention for long, I decide to head to shop to peruse their abundance of chocolate and stick to my mantra of ‘a minute on the lips a lifetime on the hips – but make every minute count!’, treating myself to a dark chocolate Bounty. Enjoying it later on with an abundance of tea and an abundance of ‘Gangs of London’ on Netflix.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely recognise the benefits of mindfulness and mediation and the lady running the group is wonderful and I always enjoy her sessions. I will definitely finish my exercise of 50 names as part of my new found journaling habit and I will continue with the mediations because even sitting still to collect my thoughts rather than trying to do it standing on one leg, whilst also planning an event at the same time is actually progress for me.
I genuinely feel flooded with a moment of harmony at the end of the meditation, and it calms me even though it is quickly replaced by the dog barking or the wonky washing machine sounding like it is about to take off as it goes into spin cycle. I embrace the calm and try to relocate it along with my car keys and phone throughout the course of the day.
Maybe one day I will achieve the goal of a full five minutes of true peace, I owe it to myself to keep trying. But until then, I can probably make that dark chocolate Bounty last for 5 minutes – just!