I teach the mindfulness-based stress reduction program because at its essence, it’s about teaching ourselves to stop trying to be different from who we are, to relate to ourselves — with all our goodness, pains and aches, and imperfections — and all the unexpected twists and turns of life in a supportive way, with clarity and compassion. Humor of course also helps.
So, it’s confession time. I am a mindfulness trainer that quite often moves through life mindlessly. I regularly lock myself out of my home (quite problematic when you live alone). I forget to take the keys out of my bicycle lock (one of my bikes got stolen as a result). I recently left my wallet at the yoga studio and only noticed at 5 a.m. the next morning when a taxi arrived to take me to Schiphol (I swear this is true!). I lose my OV card even when I remind myself to be super careful. I regularly misplace scarves, gloves and hats. I send out apps and emails with mistakes in them, sometimes lots of them.
The most recent situation took place a few days ago when I organized a one-day mindfulness retreat in The Hague. I gave the wrong address to participants. I unknowingly sent 12 people to Helmersstraat #14 rather than #140 and only realized this 30 minutes before the start of the event. Imagine a mindfulness trainer who exposes her mindlessness en plein publique. One of the worst possible humiliations imaginable.
“How pathetic, you suck, really suck, go hide in a cave now!” Recognize such a voice? Maybe yours is a bit kinder. My inner critic is nasty and unforgiving. In the past I would have let her beat myself up for days about this. Thanks to the attitude of non-judgement that I am practicing (and part of what I teach in the mindfulness course, I am able to notice much more quickly when that nasty one takes hold and disarm her by consciously choosing to drop the knife against myself. It’s not necessarily easy for a reforming perfectionist like me but it is possible, with practice.
How did my major fuck up end? It was solved in about 5 minutes. I managed to calm myself down but not quite enough to come up with a practical solution, That’s what happens under stress, the brain’s neocortex shuts down and you can forget about being creative. Luckily a friend, who was with me at the time and totally calm, suggested that we put a sign at the wrong address telling people where to go which was just a 2 minute walk away. Done!
Everyone arrived on time. No one mentioned the issue. It was as if they had not even noticed. Imagine that. Finito. End of story. I chose to just drop it too. I make mistakes even when my intention is to be be careful and it’s OK because that’s what it is sometimes. I don’t have to like it. I just have to accept it and take responsibility for it, fix it if I can, and move forward. And of course, learn to slow down especially when my impatient mind takes over. Two other tools mindfulness invites us to practice.
So what’s the key? Meditation helps us notice when those undermining thoughts arise. Noticing them, naming them (nasty self-talk) and choosing not to let it take its grip on us. Managing your attention and practicing non-judgement. It’s a question of practice. Meditation helps teach ourselves to observe what we are doing while we are doing it and the merciful attitude of non-judgement helps us drop the knife. Let’s make it out intention to drop the knife, so we can shift some of that unnecessary self-induced stress ands negativity! Just this thought is making me feel a little more relaxed. How about you?