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Mindfulness.

At the Diabetes Sisters conference, there was a lot of talk about mindfulness.  And it was a term thrown out constantly, with everyone nodding their heads, but I was sitting there thinking, "I have no idea what mindfulness is."

During one of the sessions, a definition of mindfulness was offered:  "It's moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness."  Okay.  "Being in the moment."  Gotcha.  "Appreciating the fruitfulness of the moment."  (I can't lie:  I do like anyone who uses the word "fruitfulness" while I'm eating a banana.  Game on.)

I wanted to harness this power of mindfulness, because it seemed like a really nice, calm place to be, mentally.  I thought I'd have a bit of a leg up on your average person, because living with a chronic illness heightens self-awareness in a lot of unique ways, so I figured I'd have mindfulness in the bag. 

Not quite.

There was a moment of guided meditation, during which the room full of people closed their eyes and were gently encouraged to let their mind wander where ever it wanted to, to focus on their posture and breathing, and to just find a centered place of relaxation.  When the brief exercise was over, one woman talked about not wanting to open her eyes and "return" to the room.

I couldn't confess that I didn't want to close my eyes in the first place.

One of my (many) problems is that I'm not good at relaxation.  Even if my body is relaxed, my mind is usually racing.  Kind of at all times.  Before I started working for myself, I threw myself into my jobs, and now that I'm self-employed, my work day is only briefly interrupted by sleep.  This doesn't bring me to a very zen-like place, but I don't mind terribly because I like being busy.  And an intimidating to do list makes the fire under me burn a bit brighter.  

(I think I unfortunately thrive on chaos.)

My zen-like place is behind a gigantic iron wall.  Of cortisol.  ;)

Which is why these discussions about mindfulness made me uncomfortable.  It's not that I didn't agree with what was being presented, or that the concept didn't resonate for me, but more that it's just not my kind of mentality.  I've tried yoga, and meditation, and other calming exercises, but what seems to make me feel calmest is either being on a beach with a book to read, or crossing another item off that to do list.  There's not much gray area for me.

There was a "mindful eating" focus that really stuck with me.  The point was to bring the focus back to slowing things down and being very aware of the moments we spend consuming food, instead of the standard shovel-haul so many of us employ.  I really appreciate the concept behind this, but I hadn't ever tried it before, so I didn't know how I'd actually feel about doing it.

We were told to take a small portion of trail mix and to select one item from our pile.  I grabbed a yellow M & M.  

And then it began an exercise in utilizing all the senses.  We were told to examine the item with our eyes, taking note of the shape, color, and visual texture.  Then we put the item in our mouth, but were asked not to chew it.  Instead, we were told to recognize the saliva in our mouths, and to run our tongue over the item.  Then we were told to chew the single item for a few seconds.  Then we were told to swallow.

For whatever reason, this mindful eating exercise completely skeeved me out.  I have a tendency to eat quickly, either to treat a low or in recognition of the brief moments I have while the Bird is napping, but I don't eat without appreciation.  However, I really didn't like taking three full minutes to consume one M & M.  By the time we were sanctioned for swallowing, I was grossed out.  Something about all that talk about saliva and rolling a single candy around in my mouth made me go "blargh." 

I wanted to achieve that mindfulness.  I wanted my brain to be less clouded by the fog of chaos I usually roll around in.  But all I could think was, "I never, ever want to eat an M & M again." 

I know I need to find more "down time" in my life, but I don't think I'm wired for mindfulness.  My zen-like place is somewhere ... but I haven't found it yet.

[Disclosure:  I was asked to attend the conference by the team at Animas, and they paid my travel, lodging, and expenses.  Full details on my relationship with Animas here. And this is what happens when you're too close to a cat.]

Comments

you know, I think it's ok to not be "in the moment" at every moment. I actually think if our ancestors, the cave people were "in the moment" they never would have learned how to build fire, or gather food for winter, or run from the bad critters, because they never would have been too busy enjoying the sun or the berry they just ate or the hide from the wooly mammoth. I think genetically we're programmed to think ahead, to plan, to anticipate. Sure, it's fun to say "wow, I'm really enjoying this bowl of cereal RIGHT NOW" but if we did that we'd never put food on our table because we'd never make that list and we'd never anticipate that in a few days we're going to run out of cereal.

(can you tell..I'm not an "in the moment" type person)

Hi Kerri. My name is Lindsay and I am your long-lost twin.

Not exactly on point but . . I have a permanent issue with the word fruitful now because in the "toned down" version of "Fargo," (one of my favorite flicks. Trust me, if you are from Minnesota like I am it's soooooooo clever, every time Steve Buccemmi's character says "F*&^ing" they change it to "Fruitful." He mouths "F*(&^ing" but you hear "fruitful." I cannot think of anything but that . . .

Ha!! Moira's comment made me laugh! I love that movie too and can't imagine how ridiculous it would seem with the word 'fruitful' replacing the F word.

To get back on point: I love yoga and would likely have enjoyed the meditative portion of the program. But ruminating over an M&M for three minutes? GAG!

I have a serious issue with this, and I can't help it.

I have a tendency to want to narrate everything in my head in the most sarcastic fashion possible, so relaxation exercises always end up being about how cheesy everyone else in the room is. Yoga, tai chi, whatever.

I'm going to blame it on my stupid English degree.

In truth, I think mindfulness might look quite different for different people. I would also be grossed out by that M & M exercise. :) Don't give yourself too hard of a time if your "zen" doesn't match the method that was presented at the conference. We all figure out our own zen moments. Mine can be snuggling with my kids before bed, or after the kitchen is all cleaned up after supper and I feel so good that it is restored from the chaos it was, or taking an afternoon nap. Yours may be different. Nothing wrong with that.

They say (and brother says) practicing mindfulness helps with anxiety, but how can it help when I can't shut off my brain to do it...? Frustrating!

Yeah, talk about focusing on saliva would totally make me gag up that M&M too. Icky!! And I had to laugh about the cat proximity thing - I just posted a prime example of that today in a vlog (at about 1:36 on the timeline!)

A friend lent me a book on mindfulness and meditation called "Wherever You Go, There You Are". I want to say it's helpful in making me more mindful, but mostly it's just been helpful in allowing me to realize when I'm NOT mindful. I think this, in turn, helps me to be a teeny bit more mindful.

But reading the book itself? Very relaxing. :)

Wow, I blogged about mindfulness on Sunday. But I think I'm missing a lot life because I'm living it inside my head and not in the surrounding that I'm in. I'm more focused on the to do list and the conversation that I had last night to notice that the sun is rising in the pasture across the street and that a cardinal family is getting breakfast on my front lawn. I'd kind of like to have the ability to be in the moment back. I do not however, have any wish to hold food in my mouth for three minutes a gag on saliva.

Maybe I need to rethink my blog title. I feel like I am hardly ever in the moment. I am either thinking forward about what to say or do next or thinking about what I should have done or said.

P.S. I'm glad you didn't pick a raisin.

I think there are a lot of different approaches to and outcomes of mindfulness. I personally have a really hard time with meditation for relaxation because my ADD brain can't switch off, but I don't think that's about mindfulness. I think the point of mindfulness is more about noticing what's going on right now and not about shutting things off. It's not the absence of chaos, it's just noticing the chaos and enjoying it (if that's your thing).

And it can be really helpful with Diabetes management. I've been working with a medical Qigong practitioner for a couple of years, and it's basically mindfulness for your body. It has helped me so much with recognizing when I'm running my body down and with blood glucose awareness, among other things.

IMHO, we live too much in the future. What's the point of planning out your Thursday when you're going to be spending most of your energy Thursday planning out your Saturday. Seems a bit hamster-wheelish to me.

PS. I think they just went overboard with the M&M tasting. Paul McKenna does a similar exercise in his "I Can Make You Thin" book, but it's about enjoying each bite -- not holding on to the food until you have a masticated lump of mush in your mouth that you don't want to swallow.

I went to a mindful eating training for mental health clinicians who work with people who have food issues. As I mentioned yesterday, at that training, we did a similar exercise with a raisin. I thought it was really interesting with great potential, at least for people who have emotional issues around food. Obviously, an exercise like that is more of an exaggerated example of how to apply mindful eating in practice because it would take someone all day to finish one meal if they spent 3 minutes on each bite. It's definitely not for everyone, so as was mentioned, you just need another path to zen that isn't lined with saliva-soaked yellow m&m's :)

I'll vouch for mindful eating's value and applicability though, especially amongst a group of folks for whom food-related neuroses, and sometimes blatant pathologies, are unfortunately a little too frequent. This disease can complicate a person's relationship with food, and I think mindful eating can be a useful tool to counter and cope with that for some.

Kerri, I can totally relate! Hate closing my eyes in a group session and I am always the one peeking around to see if anyone else is peeking around. I too, as a mom to 3 kids under 10, thrive off chaos! You are not alone :)

How had I not seen that XKCD before? Brilliant.

But also, like many of the other commenters, I agree with you! Other than my obligatory Saturday afternoon nap, I'm usually deep into a long to-do list, and I find it immensely satisfying to cross things off that (and very hard to take a real vacation).

As a diabetic and a psychologist who recommends mindfulness to clients, I am a huge supporter of the concept of mindfulness. There is an extensive amount of research literature outlining the benefits of mindfulness for depression, anxiety, and chronic health conditions. That being said, I recognize that mindfulness isn't for everyone. BUT mindfulness is a skill that has to be developed, and it can be difficult to find the time and energy to fully develop that skill. I try to practice what I preach as much as I can, so when I run a mindfulness psychotherapy group I try to practice mindfulness as well. I can attest that although difficult, over time mindfulness can help people cultivate skills to make coping a little bit easier. I encourage people to give it a try before ruling it out after one experience or two!

Loved this post. I'm so with you! I love yoga but only because it helps me with my running. My way of relaxing is going for a good hard run with some very loud music. Meditation can go meditate off somewhere. It just doesn't work for me. I can't close my eyes that long and I can't stop planning the rest of the day. I love having lots of work in and keeping busy. I nap when I'm sick. And I don't get sick that often because I keep busy. Maybe by mindfulness people mean enjoying the moment in whatever way suits you? I guess it doesn't have to be meditation or taking 3 minutes to eat an M&M, but just being mindful of your blessings and thankful for them even if that is in the background behind all the goings-on of the day. Whatever blows your skirt up, sister :)

And the 'fruitful' comment made me laugh out loud! Now I have to see that film :)

You are an inspiration to me and I cited you in a paper. I find this both epic and entertaining.

Had a similarly frustrating experience trying to blog about mindfulness during the WEGO Health Activist monthly challenge. Mostly felt annoyed at being tasked with it. I don't blame you for your m&m gross out.

Perhaps mindfulness is simply the absence of multi-tasking. It is focusing on what you are doing, and not on fifty different things at once. For example, eating that yellow m&m, versus eating that yellow m&m while answering email, text messaging, singing along with the radio and driving all at the same time.

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