Mindfulness

May 21, 2009

This week I intended to practice the art of mindfulness for a week, and then use the insights gained as a blog entry.

Unfortunately, the most dinstinct insight I got was that I’m not yet skilled at being mindful.

To me, mindfulness means the ability to fully engage with the moment, be aware and in tune with the immediate surroundings, without the cognitive and emotional baggage that many of us have: being with the present, rather than the past or future.

On that note, and a small aside: my baggage is primarily futuristic. Being incredibly task orientated (to the point of maladjustment!), my thoughts often resemble a mental to do list: what is happening later in the day, what jobs I need to get done and in what order, and so on.I’m constantly planning my next move, at the expense of involvement and appreciation of the current move.

In the book Mindful Moments for Stressful Days, author Tzivia Gover quotes the Zen saying: “A cup is useful in its emptiness.”

This is something I would do well to remember. Whilst my mind is often full, it is sometimes full of thoughts that are beneficial or useful to me at the time. For example, I often have trouble falling asleep, as I have got into the habit of time in bed to be my mental dumping time- when all the thoughts that were squeezed out by mental clutter during the day make their case known.

Learning the ability to empty my mind would allow me to start afresh, and to fill my mind with useful thoughts according to need, or be able to engage on a more sensory, moment based level than an intellectual at times of renewal and rest.

I have developed some meditation skills in the past. I meditate best with a guided meditation, and when the conditions are right I can have quite vivid and insightful experiences. However, I know that that misses the point some what- the conditions should be secondary to my own state of mind.

I resonate strongly with the ideas, and at times, experience of a deeper conciousness. And to make the next step in my spiritual journey, I know that letting go of excess mental clutter is vital.

I find it telling also, that it is thoughts rather than emotion that block my ability for mindfulness and engagement in the moment. Whilst my emotions can manifest intensely at times, this is rare. I have often observed too, that I anaylse and rationalise my emotions- another sign of task orientation and dominance of my pattern of intellectualising.

There are times, however, that I do engage with the moment quite easily. Today, Bodhi and I were playing in the garden, pretending to be nature photograpghers in a jungle taking a picture of some tigers (our cats played along well). In the minutes before sleep I relax completely and listen to the rain or night noises outside, feeling the circle of energy between Bodhi and I as he sleeps peacefully next to me.

Generally though, these moments of mindfulness and total absorption in the moment are when I am interacting with the world on an intellectual level.

The word ‘flow’ describes this kind of absorbtion: when you are so wrapped up in what you are doing, anything not related to that activity is blanked out, and you find that time has passed rapidly. It is an enjoyable and motivating experience.

I often experience flow, but as mentioned above, the greatest majority of times are when I am undertaking a goal orientated activity that is primarily cognition based: study, or writing in this blog for instance. It almost always occurs when I am undertaking a solitary activity.

Having said that, I have noticed patterns with my ability to engage more readily in being based, renewal activity (or lack of activity) and times where I am more energetically task orientated. When I’m ovulating, I’m powerfully task driven, and more restful during menstruation, and I try to embrace this restful energy, as my natural inclination the other way is so dominant. Also, I am strongly task driven around a full moon, and immediately after until the new moon I am generally low in energy and at those times more able to be mindful.

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For a few weeks Bodhi has been having some health issues- interrupted sleep, tummy upsets and some emotional and behavioural abnormalities. My instinct and reflections led me to believe it was a food related issue, and I turned out to be right.

As we try to identify exactly what foods Bodhi has an intolerance to, our family has cut dairy (which we know is a problem) and also wheat (which we suspect may also be a problem).

This has been the kick start I have been waiting for nutritionally. I haven’t been taking care of my body for a long time, or sometimes I have, but sporadically. But for the past few weeks, I have been feeling a burgeoning will within myself to treat my body with more respect, and the food that goes into it was the most dominant part of it.

I did think this was going to be a challenging task. And, I suspect at some point it will become incredibly testing. But, except for a passing craving for a toasted cheese sandwich last night, we’ve all adjusted fine. In fact, I personally have enjoyed it immensely. Having to think and prepare so diligently, has given me the opportunity to redefine my relationship with food.

For some time I have admired the ethos behind the Slow Food movement. This movement, which began in a small town of Italy in reaction to a fast food chain setting up business aims “to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people‚Äôs dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world”. You can find out more about the Slow Food movement here: http://www.slowfood.com/

Cooking is something I enjoy doing. I wouldn’t say it is a passion, or that it’s one of my favourite activities, but the act of cooking can be pleasurable for me. I do have to have certain requirements for it to fulfill its potential for enjoyment forever. I start with a clean kitchen, and if there are dishes to do or so on, then that is my first task. Some good music playing and some incense burning creates a great atmosphere. The dish needs to be eaten by those I love, not just for me. And I need to be able to take my time with it.

The physical task of chopping, stirring, grinding- all those repetitive, archetypal cooking tasks- are calming for me. I don’t cook to invigorate myself, I cook to create peace. In this way I resonate highly with the Slow Food movement.

The other day I was trying hard to focus on assignments. My mother in law was spending time with Bodhi for the afternoon, and I really wanted to use this time productively. It was to no avail, the energy for the task wasn’t there, however much I berated myself.

Remembering something I had read earlier that day regarding Rudolph Steiner and his thoughts about the dimensions of humanity- thinking, feeling, and willing, the insight came to me to switch gears from thinking (and willing) to feeling. Instead of engaging with the world on an intellectual level, I would shift to a sensual level.

I decided that cooking would best engage my senses at that point, and set to work on an asparagus and sun dried tomato risotto. I turned what could have become a crappy afternoon into something special and soul nurturing.

I do find food can be directly soulful. The act of kneading and waiting patiently upon a loaf of spelt bread, or whatever task at hand, requires energy to go into the food, not just physically but from the psyche. And of course, that cycle is closed when the food is eaten, and taken into our body and soul. Something made with love always tastes better, and I suspect, is more nutritive, than a takeaway meal from a fast food chain, made out of routine and with no direct relationship between the cook and the person who consumes the meal.

The other aspect of ‘soul food’ that comes to mind for me is the ethical component of our food choices. I by no means can call myself vegetarian at this point. I have been in the past, and I imagine I will again sometime in the future. However, I do eat meat rarely, mostly when out. I try to eat a meat free diet as much as possible just as much for environmental reasons as for animal welfare reasons. I will go into this in another post one day, but for example, it takes an infathomable amount of water to produce, the food miles travelled are often ridiculous, and the amount of land required is enormous. Basically, going vegetarian is one of the most effective things we can do as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint.

Eating local and organic food also has obvious positive implications, all of which we have been incorporating into our meal plans as much as possible.

So whole food becomes soul food, and outward into greater planetary wellbeing.

We’ve been dairy and wheat free for a week, and I feel great. I’ve allowed myself extra rest to adjust (lots of luxurious cuddly naps with Bodhi in the afternoons), which has been lovely in itself. And the food has been great! We’ve been having a gluten free muesli for breakfast; fruit for morning tea out in the sunshine; banana, dried apricot and prune sandwiches on Dan’s delicious homemade spelt bread for lunch; carrot and celery sticks with tahini dip for afternoon tea; and dinners this week included almond and avocado soup with my sourdough bread, tomato, potato and spinach dhal, the risotto I mentioned earlier, and a tofu stirfry.

I’ve written out meal plans for a month, and will switch breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas each week for simplicity’s sake. Morning tea is always fruit, and I cook four meals a week, one for one night, and then the rest enough for two nights.

As for Bodhi, he is slowly getting better. His tummy has it’s ups and downs, but he is starting to sleep better. He has been enjoying the food as much as I have, which is great, as he was starting to reject vegetables as a group. This is such a vital time for him: to create healthy habits now will help him create his own healthy lifestyle for life.