Mindfulness or mindlessness?

Over the years family and friends (and the occasional Dr) have recommended ‘things that might relax you,’ I’ve tried colouring, swimming and my husband even organised a massage for me during which I could not switch off. Instead of concentrating on the lovely pressure releasing the toxins in my body and calming me I had a non-stop inner dialogue with myself wondering why this wasn’t, in the least bit, relaxing me. A relaxing activity, that when you stop doing it you say, ‘Oh thank goodness that’s stopped,’ clearly isn’t doing what it set out to. 

That’s not to say that I don’t understand the point of relaxing activities or activities that help us live in the moment but for someone like me, with a very busy brain, anxiety and a tendency to catastrophise, the moment I’m in can be one of panic or confusion. I actually want to be anywhere other than ‘in the moment’; my mind is already full, and I really can’t take any more mindfulness.

Take the massage. Many brains like a massage and whilst I see that I don’t feel that myself. I didn’t like not knowing the ‘rules’ of how the session should go and I would have preferred to have more information as to what the masseuse was going to do. I can’t go with the flow, kick off my hotel slippers and chill out; that’s the very opposite of who I am. 

And the colouring, well, that confused the heck out of me. Why was I colouring a picture that many other people could colour? What was unique about this experience? Was I expected to frame it and put it on the wall? Why would I do that? Whilst I was colouring, I couldn’t help thinking of all the other things I could have been doing. I found it pointless and mundane. My daughter absolutely loves it though and will come home from school and colour for an hour or so or she’ll choose to colour if she has a bit of free time. She’ll even colour on her iPad where you don’t even hold a pencil but simply press a button. Again, I’m lost as to why this is interesting, and she’s lost as to why I don’t want to join in.

I have, what I call, my ‘Mindless’ activities that help when I’m out and about. I’ve always read and to get me through using the underground in London when I was a cellist travelling about, I always had a book. I could stand on the platform reading to help me not to worry about getting the tube and I could read on the tube to help me not panic about being on the tube. I’ve read while walking through my village to work in the pub at the other end and I continue to have something to read on me at all times because, sometimes, I need the distraction, the ‘zoning out’ that reading helps me to do. 

I have mindless apps on my phone which help me in so many situations. When I’m in a queue and feeling restless (anxiety/frustration etc) I’ll play my colour sorting game. It’s pointless but in a way that my brain doesn’t think it’s pointless (but as it’s helping me to cope at that moment, maybe it does have a point?) so it distracts me from what’s going on around me without annoying me. 

My phone, however, is my favourite mindless tool because I can scroll, learn, read and connect (which means talking to friends when I’m in a pickle). I know my phone has got me through so many difficult situations where I would probably have avoided the situation entirely or have wanted to leave because I couldn’t stop the ruminating that was going on in my head. 

Mindfulness is an aspiration for me. One day I’ll be able to enjoy the moment despite it not being thoroughly planned, researched and controlled. I only seem to be able to do this while on a walk where I can stop and listen to the wind in the trees or absorb the enjoyment that is a wonderful view. I can walk for miles and want to do it again the next day (so long as my joints aren’t complaining) and I can walk on my own in silence without the need for any contact with anyone else. I have been wondering lately that maybe my brain hasn’t evolved as far along as other peoples in that I can’t cope with the lights and noise and crowds that is modern life. I’m stuck in the distant past where muted tones were the norm; wide open spaces were not a wonderful view but just where you lived and the simplicity of life without the modernity of electricity, housing estates and cars in traffic jams on motorways was something for the future. That’s for another conversation though and another blog. 

I do think we need to be careful with mindfulness and that it’s the latest ‘fix-all’ for those who suffer with stress and anxiety. If it works for you then great, keep doing it but if it doesn’t then that’s not a failure on your part; your brain could just work differently. One of my sons did a mindfulness class and was asked to draw how he was feeling. He was given an outline of a body, given colouring pencils and off all his classmates went. When I asked him what he drew he said, ‘I had no idea what she was going on about with her, “Draw how you feel now” because I just feel like me. So I drew Father Christmas instead.’ And he did and his Father Christmas was particularly spectacular.

If a massage makes you think even more about things you wanted a break from or you find colouring a pointless activity, don’t do them. Move on and find your thing that helps you relax. Also remember that escaping the moment can be a valid way to get through something difficult. Mindlessness is often as equally valid as mindfulness

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