As I look through my blog, I realize that I have written a lot recently about self care. Why it is important, how and why we should do it, what it looks like for me. Last week, for example, I wrote about putting away my to do list and making a last minute detour to the beach. I am always reminded about how we, consciously or unconsciously, teach what we most need to learn. The more I write about self care, the more I remind myself that I need to read my own words, and practice.
As I reflect back on the last weeks and months though, I think I have indeed prioritized my needs. I have gone for long runs and taken afternoon naps. I have meditated. I make time for my morning coffee. I write in my journal every day. I have even gotten a massage or two.
So why on Earth don’t I feel relaxed?
This is the question that, if I am honest, has been plaguing me. I think I appear relaxed on the surface. My patients and friends often comment that I am peaceful and calm. And yet a part of me doesn’t want to project an appearance that isn’t consistent with what I feel inside. That only perpetuates myths and unrealistic standards.
The truth is that my mind is always going, going, going. My opportunities for rest are scheduled into my calendar just like paying the bills. When I do rest, I often feel guilty, or worse yet, lazy. I worry that I will forget something (and often do). I am preoccupied, churning over a moment of impatience with my children that spoiled a special event, or planning an upcoming weekend’s worth of meals and activities.
The occasional catastrophic thought pops up. What is that weird chest pain about? Why is my son having headaches all of a sudden? Are my children safe at school? Why does it feel like the world is going down the tubes in ways that are totally out of my control?
My racing mind could honestly care less whether I am waiting in carpool, in downward dog, or trying to sleep. The running commentary has become the ever present ticker tape to my daily life. And so it finally dawned on me that that is why my moments of self care don’t leave me feeling shrouded in peace. I am perhaps relaxing in action but not in spirit. My mind is working hard, even when my body is not.
I don’t think this means that I have “failed” at meditation or mindfulness. I think this is exactly what the practice is for–to continue cultivating a greater understanding of ourselves, and compassion for the challenges that we struggle with. Mindfulness reminds us that our minds are designed to think. That is what minds do, just like our hearts beat and our lungs breathe. Our practice is to develop a spacious awareness of our thoughts, to observe them like clouds passing by, not engage with them or get caught up in our stories. Our practice is to stay connected to our lived experience, moment by moment, through our senses and our breath.
But I am not in a place where this type of mindful presence has become an automatic default mode. And that is okay. It may never be that way. I don’t want my mindfulness practice to be yet another thing I feel I have to be perfect at or accomplish. I would rather it be a journey that unfolds minute by minute, one where the destination is irrelevant.
And so I am reminded that I am a beginner, a student, always. I am starting over in every moment. I am reminded that being mindful is not something we add to our to do list, but is indeed a way of living. My task isn’t necessarily to turn the volume down on my thoughts or banish them…but to practice not living my life amongst them.
Because when I live there, in my head, I miss the way my coffee actually tastes, and what it feels like in my body to surrender to sleep. I miss the sound of the ocean and the texture of the rain. I miss the way the pen feels in my hand, the miracle of watching words emerge in ink across a page. I miss the way sadness casts a shadow over my friend’s face, and the feeling in my chest when I am holding my children’s hands as we cross the street.
I want to remember all of those moments as they are the very fabric of my life. Those are the moments I treasure most, and never want to take for granted. But I can’t remember them if I don’t experience them in the first place.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in noticing when you don’t actually feel relaxed despite practicing self care. How easy or difficult is it to relax? Do you have a running mental commentary that stands between you and your lived experience?
With gratitude, Monisha