Journal

My younger sister gifted me with The Five Minute Journal not long ago, a concept created by Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas. The book arrived on my doorstep by surprise, and I was so delighted to receive a package that wasn’t kids’ clothes, or kids’ shoes, or a fridge filter, that I foolishly agreed to give it a try.

I committed to writing in The Five Minute Journal for five days. There is even a page in the journal called “My Commitment,” where you create a contract with yourself. I started the process, which (as the title literally says) requires just five minutes each day to journal, reflect, improve: “The simplest, most effective thing you can do every day to be happier.“

My first few thoughts were about my professional life — what I’ve done (so little), what I want to do (so much), the disproportionate amount of time that I give these goals. This is the corner of my life where I need to take inventory.

What would make today great?

Making time.
Staying focused.
Finding that overdue library book.

What are three major obstacles?

Time.
Distractions.
Where haven’t I looked for that library book?
Also I need to make that appointment. And that appointment.
And what is our schedule for this weekend and next month and who needs what when and what tasks to tackle first and are my kids ok and ding, ding, ding group text threads about our next get together, thank God.

My sister’s intent in giving me this journal was so sweet and so pure that it pains me to say that I failed. My journaling started Monday morning. And ended Monday morning. I didn’t even realize that I forgot to journal Monday night until Wednesday afternoon. I lasted two and a half minutes. I also didn’t complete my self-imposed consequence (cleaning the basement floors, which is a long-overdue chore that I should be doing anyway.) AND I also gave myself the reward (a high-end beauty product) even though I fell short on my commitment on the very first day. (Although I have to say, the goopy clay face mask DID make me happier.)

On the first page of the journal, the authors provided a helpful (and obviously intentional) quote by Meister Eckhart: “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”

So today’s new day — a great day to start over. Tomorrow is also a new day. As is Sunday. So that’s settled, Monday of next week it is.

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Mindfulness-ish

About a year ago, at the suggestion of someone much wiser and balanced than I, I started reading a book on mindfulness and meditation.

You may have heard of it. It’s considered a classic introduction to the practice of mindfulness, and it’s called Wherever You Go There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn.

“Sure,” I remember saying, while simultaneously thinking there is absolutely no way in the Four Noble Truths that I’m reading that. But upon further insistence that this book was essential to a life well-lived, I downloaded a digital copy to my tablet, which is what I do with books I don’t really care about.

(I was later told that this book is not meant to be stored as an electronic file on your tablet like that series of selfies your kids took with your unwilling cat. Instead it’s meant to be held and highlighted and dog-eared, so evidence of your many epiphanies is much more tangible. My bad.)

It may be surprising to some that I found this book exceedingly helpful. To others, likely those who have read the book or who are aware of the witchcrafty-powers of practicing mindfulness*, it may not be surprising at all. Mindfulness, in its simplest explanation and in words that I’ve trickily avoided plagiarizing from most articles on the internet, is a mainstream technique with Buddhist roots that involves being actively engaged in the present.

It’s about observing and not criticizing. It’s about being self-compassionate. It’s about improving your state of wellness. (And with a little concentration, contemplation and discipline, it’s eventually about becoming a “full human being!”)

Sounds great, but I was much less motivated by becoming a “full human being” than by using mindfulness as a method of stress reduction. And it did work. But it does take some pretty dedicated mental training that, ironically, sometimes stresses me out. (ONE MORE thing on my to-do list!)

I do return to this book sometimes, and I try to use some tricks** of the trade*** when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s especially useful when I’m with my family, but not present with my family. If I catch myself drowning in a river of negative thoughts or worries that are ultimately beyond my control, I drag my floundering body out of the current and onto the shore. That helps me concentrate on the puzzle we’re building, or the dough we’re rolling, or the episode of Full House we’re watching for the billionth time (more likely).

I keep waiting for the week, the month or the season when life starts to slow down, but I’m getting the impression that just won’t happen. But I can slow down to engage more with the present, and mindfulness is just one more tool in my dusty toolbox that helps me do just that.

I may never reach the state of “full human being,” but maybe it will get me as far as “somewhat functioning wife and mom.” I’ll take it.

*Practicing mindfulness has not given me witchcrafty-powers. Yet.
**Mindfulness is not a trick.
***Mindfulness is not a trade. Or is it??