Listening to podcasts on NPR is one of my favorite activities. I usually begin while I am in the car and often end once I am in the house when I am streaming my favorite news station, WHYY which is located here in Philly. I do have ‘driveway moments,’ when I can’t exit the vehicle until I hear the interview in its entirety. Yesterday, I was out and about running pre-New Year errands after time with my precious grandson so his mommy could run HER errands. I picked up Chinese food to have my solo celebration last night, while listening to music, before a Zoom gathering with friends. In previous years, we gathered in person, meditating, dancing, singing, eating, hugging and setting intentions for the next year. As 2019 melted into 2020, we had not clue that two years later, we would be celebrating virtually. After our call ended, I watched the hijinx of Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen who hosted the CNN NYE show. As the evening wore on, they got increasingly intoxicated and their filters were GONE by the end of the show, as the ball dropped and we entered a New Year and hopefully, an era of peace, healing, reconciliation, awareness, social justice and environmental consciousness.
The show I was listening to yesterday was the perfect prelude and set the tone for my evening. Radio Times is hosted by Marty Moss. It was called “Your Peak Mind: paying attention in a distracting world”. The interviewee is Amishi Jha who is a neuroscientist, psychology professor and author of the book Peak Mind. As I listened, I found myself nodding knowingly. She could have been speaking directly to me. This undiagnosed ADHD multi-tasker with a busy-buzzy brain has daily difficulty with focus. Heck, even as I was listening to interview again this morning, my attention was pulled away to check emails, begin crafting this article and then bringing myself back to my breathing which Jha recommended throughout. Closing my eyes helped for a few moments, and then images began dancing on my mental movie screen. I sighed and surrendered to the process.
She used a fitting metaphor of a flashlight. As a tool, it is meant to shine a light on that which we need to give our attention…but then, something will pull us away; a danger, or someone calling our name and we have to turn the illumination to whatever is drawing our attention at the moment. She suggests that we focus, notice and re-direct our attention when we find our minds wandering. I call it my ‘toddler brain’ that wants to run and skip and play when it is time to sit down to eat lunch or take a nap. I watch with fascination when my now nearly two year old grandson does that. With the strength and dexterity that belies his age, he also hoists himself up on furniture and stands there like a triumphant King Kong. That’s when I snag him, and bring him back to safety and distract him with something appropriate. Sometimes I need to take that tack with my own cognitive process. “Come on back, honey. You’re going too far afield.”
As a professional hyphenate: therapist-journalist-editor-speaker-minister-coach-PR and marketing professional, I have numerous tasks to complete during the day, AFTER I come home from watching my grandkiddo. I am a consummate multi-tasker, able to keep the plates spinning most of the time. Unfortunately, sometimes I drop a few. That’s when Jha would recommend monotasking. Sigh…but then how will I get everything done? I remind myself that when engaging in mindful activities, I will be less likely to let that happen. I find washing dishes to be one of the most mindful things I can do. When I soaping, I soap. When I am rinsing, I rinse. When I am putting them in the dish rack, that it is all I am doing. It is better for the dishes too, since that way, I don’t literally drop and break them. The set I am using belonged to my parents and has a rainbow striped design and when I use them, I think of my folks.
Jha mentions meta-awareness which derives from the work of psychologist, John Flavell, who coined the term “metacognition” to describe a phenomenon where a person has cognition about cognition or thinking about thinking.
What really struck a chord in this time of turmoil is what she refers to as VUCA, a term which is new to me. It is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It applies perfectly to the collective trauma we are facing as a result of the state of the world. I consider myself relatively stable, with tools and techniques aimed to keep myself that way and I still lose myself in thought, distractions, self protecting mind meanderings so as not to face the reality of what is swirling around me. Call it a dissociative state or brain fog. Lots of thought slip through the cracks and I have reach down to retrieve them. Memory and mindfulness go hand in hand.
I have a sweet memory that comes from time with my friend Deev Murphy that occurred more than a decade ago. She died suddenly in 2019, one of the most fully living people I knew. We had gotten together at Starbucks in a nearby town and were musing about life, the Universe and everything. This encounter was part of a chapter in my Bliss Mistress book, called Zen Starbucks. In it, she describes what I would consider a mindfulness exercise.
“Then she asked me what I thought I could count on for certain in my life. I said, “Only two things: that I was born and that someday I will die. Every person in our lives is on loan to us and every experience passes. Change is the only inevitability. That can be frightening or
exhilarating. These days, I’m leaning toward exhilaration.”
From there, we meandered into one of the most challenging spiritual lessons I often encounter. She referred to the concept of emptying out, totally letting go of it all to allow for the new and healthy to enter our lives. The beautifully simple example she gave was of changing the water in her cat’s dish. She doesn’t just top off the water. She empties the used water out. She doesn’t just add new water. She washes the dish. Even then, she takes it a step further by wiping it dry to remove any remaining residue. And from that point, she doesn’t just add tap
water. For her cat’s well-being, she replaces it with distilled water.
This entire process may only take a few minutes but it is powerfully symbolic of the care that we can also put into our own clearing process. In order to fully let go, I know I need to trust implicitly that I can live with the in-between, not knowing, in the meantime, free-fall stage.
Terrifying at times, it embodies my spiritual amnesia, because inevitably the answer, the re-fill, the manna-festation (as my friend Kim calls it) arrives even more gloriously than I could have imagined. I forget at times, that all is well and in Divine order.”
Make sure your flashlight has plenty of batteries.
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