mind•ful•ness / mīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/ – noun / – a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
In many of the different philosophies I have studied, mindfulness is a large part of moving forward in accepting and being happy with your life. Mindfulness, in its purest essence, is living in the moment. When you live in the moment, you have no cares beyond the now.
I have always had a tendency to disassociate myself from places that were in my past, even if I were there just the day before. When I go on vacation, I acclimate to the new place and space so quickly that my everyday life feels distant and a little unreal. When I go back home, the vacation space feels just as distant and unreal. What this tendency hasn’t given me is the ability to let go of worrying about the emotions that are still holding on from the past.
When I was a young girl, I had a puppy I loved; his name was Tom. He was a tiny mutt with black and brown splotches on his primarily white coat. I can’t remember where he came from or what happened that I was allowed to get a dog all my own. What I can remember is how much I loved him.
Tom was kept in the back yard with the other dogs. As I look back, I regret that. As a child I had no input in that decision, but who would put a small puppy out in the yard? I have always allowed my dogs and cats free reign of my homes, but Mom and Dad had a different perspective on the role pets played in the family.
What I remember most clearly about that pup is leaning over the fence to pet him. Eventually, the petting became holding my hand in a position that he could push his head against it to give himself leverage to climb the fence. I was so proud of having a dog that could limb the fence! What a special canine I had chosen!
Unfortunately, I never realized that my helping him climb the fence would someday lead to Tom learning to climb the fence by himself. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I will always remember the plummeting of my heart when I came home one afternoon and there was no Tom in the backyard. For years, the mere thought of that moment would plunge me into depths of guilt you wouldn’t think the mere loss of a dog would lead to.
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve begun to wonder if he truly climbed the fence, or if something happened that made my parents decide to get rid of him. I will never know if I was the one who endangered an innocent puppy, or if there was some unknown event that caused him to be removed from my life. What I do know is that I’ve spent 50 years feeling guilty whenever that dog came to mind.
That episode in my life is a classic example of how I programmed myself to feel responsible and guilty for something that may or may not have been in my control. It is but one example in a lifetime of living that pattern.
Like everyone else, I was raised by parents who were humans with human flaws. The people who I have met in my life were also humans with human flaws. As a result, I have acquired my own issues and patterns. There is no way to go through life without interacting with humans and occasionally, those human flaws melt into your psyche and become issues that sometimes feel overwhelming.
Those issues can also cause you to worry about the future. We learn through experience and it’s hard to let go of those experiences when you’re thinking about the future. I remember so many sleepless nights, especially when my children were growing up, when I would toss and turn all night worrying about the best way to deal with situations that may or may not have actually manifested.
“Yesterday is HISTORY, tomorrow is a MYSTERY, but today is a GIFT. That is why it is called the PRESENT.” ― Alice Morse Earle
Living in the moment is hard work. If it were easy, there would be no need for sayings like the one above. We’d all know how to keep ourselves in the moment and live for the day.
Our old patterns, especially the ones that were created when we were too young to know what we were absorbing, are hard to identify and even more challenging to let go of.
I would love to tell you that I no longer feel guilty about my puppy, Tom. That would be a lie. What I can tell you is that with a lot of conscious thought, I can now talk myself away from the guilt when it hits me. I would also love to tell you that I am able to do the same thing about all of the other patterns that have formed my perspective on life and the world. That would be a lie too.
What I am working on is identifying patterns when they present themselves in my life. Once I am able to identify them, I am able to work on them. There are so many times when I think I’ve learned how to deal with a pattern only to have it pop up in a new way that I have to work to understand it’s the same pattern. I am assuming this is a life-long path and I am willing to continue on that path.
I love those fleeting moments when I feel at one with the past, the present and the future. My hope is that by working on my patterns, I will someday be able to react to everything with mindfulness and learn to live truly in the moment. In this moment, I think I’ll go get a cup of coffee and savor every drop. I hope you savor your day too.