What is this mindfulness nonsense everyone’s banging on about?

Karen here. For me, mindfulness started as a buzzword I kept hearing people say, without having any concept of what they were talking about. It was in all the ladies magazines. On all the blogs. But what actually was it??

My coworker reckoned all children should be taught mindfulness in schools, but I shrugged off the suggestion without asking for clarification. Julia told me how she knitted mindfully, and I scrunched up my nose and responded, “that sounds boring.”

When I taught Julia and Maddi to knit. In the dark. Not very mindful...
When I taught Julia and Maddi to knit. In the dark. Not very mindful…

It wasn’t until I read an article about Ruby Wax, the American UK comedienne, that it started to sound like something I wanted to be a part of. She described mindfulness as an effective way of dealing with anxiety, depression, and issues with acceptance and self-love that had plagued her since childhood. She argued that we need to stop stressing about stress. Now, I’ve been a stress-head my entire life. I was nicknamed “Worrywart” at the age of six. I’ve struggled with stress-related stomach problems since age 17. Stress is my best frenemy. It makes me feel awful and makes me treat other people poorly, but it’s been my constant companion for so long that I start to worry when there’s nothing to stress about. That’s right: when I have nothing else to stress about, I stress about not having any stress, and about where my next dose of stress might come from.

Frazzled-Ruby-Wax-300x230

I’ve also long suffered from excessive daytime sleepiness. In the last few years, I’ve noticed an increase in my anger levels, a decrease in my tolerance of and patience for other people, and a near inability to think rationally when I’m tired. When someone gives me constructive criticism, I go into a tailspin of self-loathing that I can’t pull myself out of, no matter how hard I try.

I’ve realised that the habits my brain has picked up over the years aren’t healthy, but more importantly, I’ve learned that I can change those habits, oddly, through accepting them. And after 30-some years of having the following discussion with myself: “You have to stop stressing. Just stop…right now. Stop stressing. Why are you still stressing???” I’ve realised there might be a more effective way to chillax. Like, not worrying too much about the stress! It’s there, it’s affecting me, but so what? I can still function effectively, I can still have a normal conversation with another human being. I can still get my work done, and then laugh and joke with my friends. What’s the big deal if the laughter turns into weeping, right??

laugh cry

I’m only just starting out on my journey with mindfulness. I’m dipping my toes by reading Mindfulness for Dummies (yep, it exists). One of my favourite things I’ve learned so far is that mindfulness is an opportunity to be kind to yourself. To forgive yourself for not being perfect. I’m still stressed out all the time, I still get frustrated about trivial stuff, and I still bite my fiance’s head off for no reason, but I’m slowly learning not to kick myself for failing to be perfect.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

— Laozi

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