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I loved everything about this leaf, and then my son destroyed it.

The stars have made it clear they will not rest until I get my mind in order. As the universe churns out its mysterious swirling progress, my personal trajectory keeps coming up mindfulness. The promises and temptations of greater happiness, unshakable self-confidence, less stress, and less anxiety have reached a tipping point in my life. Nonetheless, I could easily continue my two steps forward, one and a half steps back approach to the notion of present moment awareness… With a small child at home, it is easy to be busy or tired, but even I don’t buy those excuses anymore. After all, I used to be “too busy” and tired to floss my teeth, but now that flossing has become so thoroughly entrenched in my repertoire of positive daily habits, I almost never skip a day. And I never miss a chance to boast about how regularly I floss. Check.

Lately, it seems I’ve come full circle. After multiple false or half-hearted starts with mindfulness/meditation, several different paths have all recently led me back to the uncomfortable realization that it’s time to do mindfulness in a more serious, (but happily, not too serious!) regular, and sustainable way.

And this time I’ve got reinforcements!

I was recently seeing a therapist who recommended meditation for the purposes of letting go of the “stories” from the past, be it 20 years ago or 20 minutes ago, and learning to be present in the moment called now – as opposed to stewing, ruminating, etc. For several weeks, I raised multiple objections and questions about the mechanics of mindfulness and meditation and I still don’t think I totally get it, but repetition and practice is part and parcel of mindfulness. That’s why it’s called PRACTICE! So, I have every reason to believe it will get through to me eventually. In the mean time, I’ll just do what all intrepid adventurers do and fake it till I make it.

I did a little reading on my own, but then, felicitously, my dear, darling college friend Andrea posted on Facebook about a mindfulness challenge she planned to take up in October – only a couple of days away at the time. I can never resist any challenges I see on Facebook, particularly from Andrea. She does all the best challenges.

Turns out, the whole month of October is one big 31-day mindfulness challenge. As if the universe contrived to bring this all about and put it down right in front of me, (and everyone else on the planet with an internet connection,) Mrs. Mindfulness, also known as Melli O’Brien, a delightfully charming Australian mindfulness extraordinaire, has put together The Mindfulness Summit and is presenting daily interviews and lectures for the entire month. And it’s free! No risk.

I am traveling several time zones away from home at the moment. When I signed up for this, I thought to myself, “Oh, fantastic! Here I go again…I did so well with the Take 10 challenge – 10 minutes of meditation for 10 days, (which I wrote about here, here, and here,) let’s up the ante to 31 days of things I can feel bad about not accomplishing!” But, in a strange twist, admittedly somewhat characteristic of me, when the going gets tough and unpredictable, I make it my sole, obsessive mission in life to make sure this one thing happens, no matter what.

It’s day 11 of the challenge as I write this and I am up to date on all the talks so far (but now on day 13, it’s a slightly different story). I have had to double up a couple of times when I missed one here and there, but I am not behind now and I am really enjoying the entire experience. It didn’t occur to me before to wonder how they were going to fill 31 days talking about mindfulness, but now that I have seen just 11 days worth of material, I can’t help but marvel at all of the domains into which mindfulness can reach. I’ve heard about mindful eating, mindfulness and mental health, neuroscience, happiness, daily life practices, and more. I can’t wait to see what will come next.

The minor irony, for now, is that I am spending so much time listening to talks about mindfulness that I’ve not had time to sit down and do it, except when the daily presentations include a guided exercise. On the other hand, although the talk about mindful eating was not my favorite, I did take my time eating lunch today and concentrated on the taste of most bites I took. I chewed slowly and considered the fact that I was eating a lovely meal. Present moment awareness. Not bad.

I spent some time this morning considering a pretty fall leaf I found on a walk. It was deep burgundy with flashes of yellow and red – a stunning autumn flame (see photo above.) Soon after, my two-and-a-half-year-old took great pleasure in repeatedly scrunching it up until twas but a bent and twisted remnant of its former splendor and I didn’t even get all mad or wistful about the loss of my beautiful leaf. I just mindfully said to myself, “Dammit, what a little shit!” and went on with my life. Acknowledge, accept, and move on… I think it’s working!

This evening, I went for a brisk walk as I listened to the interview with Shamash Alidina about practical ways to be mindful. It was so good! As I walked through the field riddled with holes perfect for spraining an ankle, (thanks to the rain and the cows who walked there recently,) I had to be quite mindful of my steps. Then I came upon a chestnut tree with huge piles of fallen chestnuts booby-trapping the ground around it.

If you’ve never seen chestnuts ready to be harvested, let me tell you, they are terrifying. Incomprehensibly long, spiky thorns protrude from every possible angle. What are they protecting themselves against? Some type of monstrous creature with absolutely no sense of feeling in any part of its body? Animals with mouths and digestive tracts made of armor? These mini war balls burst open when they are ripe and fall to the ground in a large mound of menacing stabbiness defending a tasty snack on the inside. Then they just lie there seductively with their shiny brown skin gleaming through their fearsome outer shells, daring innocents to try scooping them up and feasting on them. “So, you’d like to collect some chestnuts because they are so delicious?” they seem to say. “Not if our apocalypse battle gear has anything to say about it you won’t!”

I persevered. In spite of the mortal danger to every finger of my body, I found it quite calming to collect these threatening little would be snacks. A well placed nudge with a shoe allowed me to free them from their prickly carapace and carefully pick them up, mostly unscathed. One simply cannot concentrate effectively on self-hatred, self-doubt, or any other self-destructive thought patterns when one is so intently focused on protecting one’s fingers from being obliterated by such vicious, inside-out pincushions. 

Maybe I am starting to get it! Part of what I appreciate so much about this Mindfulness Summit, so far, is that experts from all over the world agree that each person must find their own way to mindfulness. They are not dogmatic and do not insist that you must spend X amount of time in X position. Not unlike the chestnuts, though with much less weaponry about them, they are all bursting with encouragement and nourishing ideas about how to live mindfully.

What’s your trick for mindful living?