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Whatever You’re Doing, Just Do It

October 26, 2010

Caveat emptor: This is largely unedited, even for flow of ideas, but it was on my mind. You may find it dry as a bone to read. Also, too long. And it doesn’t have any recipes, photos, or jokes. But hey, at least it’s free!

I don’t know whether I missed something in therapy, but recently I’ve seen a spate of references — well, two references, but two well-placed references can seem a spate — to a concept that could potentially be very helpful to me. Everyone else is probably already doing this and leading happy and fully realized lives, but in case they are not, here it is:

Whatever you are doing, just do it.

One reference was by in advice column I like to read: Cary Tennis on Salon. It was thoughtful advice to someone leaving their spouse and wondering if they were making a terrible decision. The columnist basically said “Well: you’ve decided, things are in play, and this is what you are doing, so relax into it, and do it fully.”

How can I apply this to my own life? Why does it resonate?

Another was a conversation with a friend who is a mother of two, and like many mothers, she has multiple ambitions tugging at her heart and time. And I think that there can be a frustration when you are used to being at work, or working on your own projects and accomplishing things, and then suddenly your job is to hang out with someone who will not, under any circumstances, put on their shoe when you want them to, and the other stuff gets shelved. Even if being a mom is a thing that you have wanted to do more than anything else, it is a huge adjustment to see the time and space for these other things go away, or be vastly diminished.

My friend who was talking about it has more parenting experience with this than I do but recently mentioned that maybe, for the next few years, that is just what she should do, and not expect to be able to do any of the other stuff. By changing her expectations, stop being frustrated about not working on a book or a business or another project, but just letting herself be a full-time mom and do what she is going to have to do anyhow, and doing it without struggle.

“Huh,” I thought. “Without struggle.”

I must admit that this seemed like sort of an alien concept, either because I can’t imagine thinking myself (resigning myself?) past a struggle, or because I just don’t know if it would work.

It seemed like even more of a commitment than just Mindfulness, which I have a hard enough time with.

When I think of Mindfulness, the example I think of is cereal. Mindfulness is: if you are eating a bowl of cereal, you shouldn’t also be drafting the letter to Mitt Romney that you have to write for work and trying to wash out the bowl of cereal almost before you are done so you don’t have to do it later while also going to the bathroom and pricing tickets to Honduras. Or wait, should you go to Belize again? Mindfulness is just eating the cereal, until you are done. It is deciding you want cereal, pouring it, sitting down to eat it, eating it all the while being aware of what you are doing, and then finishing it, without even starting to watch Mad Men or checking your email. Mindfulness is not photographing the light playing off of the cereal using some new filter on your iPhone in order to post it on Facebook.

Hard, right? And that’s just for cereal. The cereal is daily practice, so that you learn where those muscles are. Where it really comes into play is when you are supposed to apply it in an actually challenging situation.

Mindfulness gets even harder when you are thinking about being angry, and instead of resorting to whatever you do when you are angry, acknowledging how you feel, HONORING how you feel, and then being mindful of the way that you react. All of this includes not smashing things or yelling.

“Act, don’t react,” another friend likes to say. What a nice catch phrase! But just try it because it is freaking impossible! But you’ve gotten your mindfulness muscles strong through the cereal and then you can flex them to paying attention to how you feel but also how you might normally react and how you might prefer it if you could react differently, and then actually put that into play. It’s awareness. I guess that awareness is just a synonym for mindfulness, and that the Mindfulness with a capital M people definitely went to the thesaurus on that one.

Yoga should (and does, I would argue) assist with these seemingly simple goals. It’s funny how just sitting still and eating a bowl of cereal can be a harder posture to hold than Warrior Two pose. You are doing this, so just do it. Until you have tried it, Warrior Two looks easy, yet can be difficult to manage; apparently so can the seemingly simple act keeping cereal eating simple. Maybe I should try sitting at the table just bringing my mind back from Don Draper and Honduras again and again, to, “corn flakes. corn flakes.” Because goodness knows that I have spent enough time in Warrior Two to think “wow, my right thigh is burning, and having my arms at heart level makes my heart thump, and my back tired.” However, I have paid someone to tell me to do it, and to watch me to do it, and we both know that I will be a little bit ashamed if I stop doing it just because it’s a little bit uncomfortable.

But I have found just being in different positions and having those thoughts so helpful when I am in a dentist chair, and someone wants me to have my mouth open forever with a drill in it. And my jaw hurts and it is scary-smelling smoke emanating from that drill against my tooth, but I can use the same little voice to say “Wow, for the time being I am at the dentist trying not to swallow blood and bone shards, plus my mouth hurts, but you know, it is no harder to passively sit here than it is to actively do chair pose, and I know that these ‘sensations’ will end.”

When I have to get dressed for work, or pack for business trips, or plan dinner, I can get stressed to a degree that is not commensurate — even at all — with the task. I just think and worry and go through lots of option, all for nothing. It is a total waste of time and energy. And at those times I often find myself thinking, “What is important is that I make a decision. It is does not matter a whit what the decision is, but a decision, any decision, needs to be made, and stuck to.”

And once I have made the decision, even if I am doomed to a few days in a less-than-perfect outfits, or serving my family a boring, carrot-intensive meal, I can stop using the freneticism of the task to rev the engine and having my wheels spin and make me anxious. And I am just doing what I am doing.

So, that is the thought for the day. Even the thought for the day meandered a whole lot, from my original concept, to my relationship to mindfulness and what that might actually mean.

Of course, leaving the action of the moment and deciding what you are going to use in the moment (ie, looking at the cereal in the bowl and thinking, “I want to write a post about the cereal in the bowl” is the sort of mental note-taking that is part and parcel of not focusing on the task at hand.  Hmm. I just wonder where “mental notes” fit into mindfulness. Or maybe the mindfulness people don’t try to blog and just eat gruel and only wear stretchy clothes. That doesn’t sound that great, either.

Maybe I need a combo? I am just going to do a lot of things, I think, but maybe with greater awareness and focus. Usually I am eating the cereal alone. Lately, I even find it hard to eat cereal with someone else, someone small who also loves cereal, without doing other things. I’d like to be able to focus. And I’d like him to be able to focus. That would be nice. So nice.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 2:31 pm

    I am finding that it is almost impossible for me to truly be “in the moment” because I have three little beings who depend on me, but I’m working on it.

  2. Karen permalink
    October 27, 2010 12:29 pm

    Oh man. What a journey it has been, from becoming a first-time parent and having work SUCK so badly when I got back and having zero time for all that other stuff and being SO ANGRY about it all that my husband said you know what, you have to stop…. to, making lists of things to do on the weekends, and grinding my teeth on Sunday night because none of it was done, and wondering how not to be angry, and finally resigning myself to the fact that I had to find a way to not have struggle be the default setting. As you said: I have to do it anyway so just do it , and don’t make everyone miserable in the process- least of all yourself.

    It IS impossible to be in the moment, but I console myself by having the meta-thought be: am I struggling against me right now? Am I setting unrealistic expectations, or pulling myself in too many directions? And at least if I am not in the moment, I am in the process of giving myself a break, which is not so bad.

    And when I can’t: when dinner is crappy or at least didn’t turn out the way I wanted, or my back hurts so much that we’re eating pizza *again,* well: is there someone else who had more time to do it than me, or could have done it better? Did I prioritize the best way I could? Usually yes; usually pizza is the best possible outcome.

    The wonderful effect that parenting has had on our marriage is that we rely on each other more, and we forgive each other more. There is a really visceral understanding that if one of us doesn’t do it, you just put it on the other’s plate. Or– if I am really angry, I am encroaching on the family vibe- that too. That giving myself a break is good for everyone.

    And when you have someone there that wants you with them, unequivocally for everything, hey, In the Moment would be nice, but it would also be, I dunno, kind of selfish in a sense?

    So maybe I really have internalized the idea of “just doing it.” Maybe I should take a bow….

  3. Michelle permalink
    October 28, 2010 6:44 am

    I just got back to this post – missed it the first time. How true. True. Do one thousand things and finish none. Do one thing and think of everything you’re not doing. Marco’s aunt Franca has a kind of focus that is the opposite of intensity. It’s a totally relaxed focus, just what you describe. She works on the pumpkin tortellini until they are finished. Rolling small bits of pasta dough at a time, filling and folding. Rolling some more. Tranquility flows from her, and accomplishment follows close behind. I like to think about Zia Franca while I make my lists while doing yoga.

  4. Heather permalink
    October 29, 2010 8:00 am

    Great post. Unfortunately, while I focused on reading it, H found a screwdriver and is dismantling the computer chair.

  5. Amy permalink
    November 1, 2010 3:38 pm

    This is great, Meredith. I am right there with you. I have been trying (occasionally) to just eat and do nothing else, inspired by my parents, who go to these Zen retreats and eat their meals in silence. It’s hard! But it has occurred to me that if I’m reading internet news while I’m eating my breakfast, I’m not fully enjoying my yummy breakfast! And what a shame that is. But our culture really isn’t about eating in silence. If you go to a restaurant and eat by yourself without your trusty book, you look like a weirdo!

    As for your last question, about whether the monks of the world just eat gruel, I do think there are times for thinking about things (creative thoughts, like writing ideas, or practical ones, like what to do with your 401(k) or whatever). But it’s the other parts of your day, when you don’t really feel like being creative and you don’t need to make a practical decision, when your brain just starts going in circles. And those circles aren’t helping us at all. I think that “circle pattern” of worrying about the same old stuff over and over again is what we’re trying to break. It’s hard though! But even attempting to break the pattern is more enjoyable that just going through life in that pattern, unaware. At least, for me anyway, it gives me ample opportunities to laugh at myself! 🙂

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