“Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” – Mary Oliver
Have you ever been haunted by a word? It’s name popping up here in conversation, there in a magazine. Always speaking to you, in a hushed whisper, of what lies in store should you pursue her?
Over the last six months, this word has been following me, a shy boy afraid to ask for a date. Hanging back and hoping I’ll notice him. So often there on the periphery of everyday life.
A couple of months ago I finally went back to weight watchers, after gaining back every single one of the 20 pounds I lost a few years ago. Gives new meaning to the term lifetime, huh? This time around, I am not eager and excited. I am resentful and jaded, not looking forward to spending the rest of my life writing down every bite of food I consume so I can comfortably fit in a size 8. I walked in feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and wishing to be anywhere else.
The leader spent the first four meetings I attended talking about mindfulness. Breath. Meditation. Focus. Distraction free eating. Mindfulness and satiety. Paying attention.
Have you ever sat down to enjoy an afternoon snack or coffee only to get so wrapped up in your thoughts about next, and hurry, and lack, that you look down and its already gone? Did you even enjoy one bite of that thing you were anticipating an hour ago? Is every day this way?
Maybe we are sleepwalking through life?
I’ll admit, I was annoyed at that meeting, talking about breathing. Please. Give me the good stuff. You know, all the stuff that as a lifetime member, I already know. But can’t seem to remember. Like how to ask myself what I’m really hungry for and if I’ve had enough.
Have you had enough of feeling disconnected?
The last few months I’ve felt my fuse getting shorter and shorter, the normal foibles and challenges of parenting stretching me to the breaking point. All is not so well. Then, the stars aligned, bringing two ideas together in stunning clarity:
Mindfulness and Melancholic
In doing more research into the four classic temperaments, I realized that I am melancholic. So, so melancholic. With a very healthy dose of Choleric for good measure. Its a laugh riot over here.
Yet in reading more about mindfulness and the characteristics of my people, melancholics, I realized how much one can help the other. Melancholics are characterized as being:
sensitive and/or moody
slow reactions to ideas, people, and situations that build in intensity over time and leave a lasting impression
globalize mistakes as disasters
But they are also capable of great empathy, compassion, and are often very concerned with the suffering of others and injustice in the world, and strive to be the best they can be and to inspire others to greatness. With melancholics you get the heights and the depths of life. Ask my husband, a delightful blend of Phlegmatic and Melancholic.
Artists, writers, counselors, and religious are often melancholics. These are my people, and we need mindfulness.
For people like me, we exist in the world of our thoughts, and it can be hard to extricate ourselves from our thoughts long enough to enjoy the present moment or see God’s hand moving through everyday experiences. Our thoughts and feelings are so intense, they must be true, right?
Maybe thoughts are just that: thoughts. Maybe feelings aren’t facts, and we can choose how we respond to them. However we can’t do this if we don’t periodically stop and pull away from our thoughts to focus on what is actually happening in the present moment. To actually feel the breeze in my hair or the touch of a tiny hand in mine.
When is the last time you did this?
Though mindfulness is most well known as a Buddhist principle for enlightenment, I believe that God uses mindfulness to draw us to Him, and to give us the self-awareness that we must have to grow in holiness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is in front of us, taking each day with its joys and sufferings as it comes. Is this not what God invites us to do in the prayer He gave us:
Give us this day, our daily bread…
Are we missing our daily bread today because we are focused on what comes tomorrow?
In Scripture, Jesus explains how we are to be, using the analogy of birds who cannot live anywhere but in the present moment, and tells us what we all instinctively know: worry is not of God and will not lead us to Him.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
So, the practice of mindfulness, of slowing down and paying attention, can undo our paralysis and open our eyes to the many gifts that God is giving us today. Right now, even in the midst of this sorrow. This hardship. This day of too little sleep, and too many tiny hands demanding more of us than can justly be expected. We give it anyway, and in this is grace.
If this speaks to your soul too, please join me. I’m going to be posting one gift, one fruit of mindfulness each day on Instagram until I hit a thousand. Taking a page from the wonderful Ann Voskamp’s book, I’m using mindfulness and gratitude to allow His grace to shake me awake.
Day 1: for sunlight streaming over breakfast dishes signaling more than enough to eat, I give thanks.