Friday, April 29, 2016

Mindfulness and Alice in Wonderland

Children's books are often rightly attacked for perpetuating dominant cultural modes: the white families of “Dick, Jane, and Sally,” the world of happy housewives, and countless other stereotypes.

For the many books that attempt to subdue rebellious impulses, there are at least a few that broadcast, whether consciously or unconsciously, subversive messages.

Recently I reread Alice in Wonderland, a favorite of mine in my childhood (mainly because of the cat). In this rereading, I found the book to be highly subversive in a way that I like.

For those who are unfamiliar with or who have forgotten the story, Alice falls asleep one summer afternoon and dreams that she’s in a very strange place with unusual beings of both the human and animal variety. She ultimately becomes involved in a croquet match involving flamingos as mallets, hedgehogs as balls, and playing cards as hoops.

The Queen of Hearts, who changes her mind about what she wants every few minutes, takes a strong dislike for Alice and decides that she must die, shouting, “Off with her head!” In the middle of this dream, Alice comes to awareness and realizes that the Queen’s army is nothing but a pack of playing cards. She knocks them all down and wakes up.

As a kid, I didn’t get the deeper meaning of this. I knew that dreams and waking reality were different. Only with age and some small degree of wisdom have I come to realize that waking reality isn’t all that real.

In our conceptions of our lives, we may have created details as bizarre as Cheshire Cats and Mad Hatters and feel that life is shouting, “Off with her head!”

Imagine a world in which you can be tall and proud when you think about your children and small and weak when you contemplate changing your career. No drugs are required in either situation.

Imagine believing you’re not as good as someone else—or better than someone.

Imagine thinking that you exist for any other reason than to realize your full potential and making a difference in the world.

Imagine waking up to the reality that such beliefs are nothing more than a pack of playing cards.

Another subversive children’s writer, Dr. Seuss, has this to say: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Can you think of one good reason?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mindfulness and Delusions

When I was in high school, my family travelled from New Jersey to Wyoming, where we visited Yellowstone Park. While there, we had an incident with a mother bear and her cub.

In discussing it years later, we realized that none of our memories matched exactly. Two siblings said the bear chased us. One said “It was just there.” Another said it “followed” us. I remembered being chased, but I had forgotten that the bear chased or followed us all the way to our car and reared over it, giving us an excellent close-up view.

I tell this story to illustrate the deceptive nature of memory. How I remembered the bear had no major effect on my life. Memories, however, become significant when we assign a meaning to what we think is true and make decisions for the future based on our beliefs about the past.

We can use mindfulness to disrupt patterns based on false memories and interpretations. This process begins when we become aware that what we remember isn’t always true.


Being mindful is especially important with childhood memories.

You may have read or heard the notion that would-be parents should be required to pass a test at least as rigorous as a driving test. I agree. In many ways, we are the people our parents created. However, we have a potential choice about who we are. We exercise this choice when we question the truth of our memories.

We can discover and mindfully examine our childhood memories, especially those that don’t match what we learned was ideal family behavior. When I was growing up, the US media, especially TV shows, presented happy families. Things might go wrong, but these cheerful people made everything right again without even arguing about whose fault it was.

Where, I wondered, was my happy family?

I didn’t realize that the parent who never yelled, hit, acted stupid, who was sometimes vulnerable, and sometimes looked at you as if wishing to return to a childless state did not exist. I only knew that my parents didn’t meet televised standards.

Since then, I’ve come to a rational understanding of the cultural propaganda that encouraged me to believe that I lived in a psychotic setting (and, again, I realize that some people did), but I didn’t feel that maybe the comparison wasn’t serving me. If I felt it, I would have to forgive them and, even worse, let go of it being their fault that my life wasn’t perfect.

Because I avoided bringing mindfulness to my memories, they flourished in a fantasy land from which they governed significant aspects of how I viewed my life. As I worked on renovating Fantasy Land, it looked like a different place.

Mindful Memory Practices

  1. The more positive and especially curious you can be about this, the better results you’ll get. See yourself as a treasure hunter. Once these gems come to the surface, their reflected shine will lighten you.
  2. It can be difficult to admit that one was wrong. I ask myself, “Would I rather be right or be happy?”
  3. Don’t force it. Sometimes the search is more about noticing what shows up in your life. Maybe you get invited to the wedding of a hated relative. That could be fun.
  4. If at any point, reality is shifting too quickly, and you feel really uncomfortable, stop.
  5. Come back when you feel strong, or if you want to explore the subject but feel you need assistance, call a coach or counselor.
  6. Keep a journal. It makes good reading.
  7. Remember that it’s a project that never ends. New discoveries are always waiting to be unearthed.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mindfulness Means Looking and Listening.

It’s easy to get the idea that being in the present (which basically means being mindful) means you’re not focused on the past or the future. You’re paying attention to the here and the now. Doing, however, isn’t as easy as knowing.

The Key Word is “Focus.”

Being mindful doesn’t mean ignoring the past or future. Some attention to each has purpose.

For example, when you are planning to mail something, you might remember that you once mailed a package without insuring it or making sure that it had a tracking number. Therefore, you decide that you will be sure to take both of these steps when you mail this package. This demonstrates a simple and practical reference to both past and future.

Sometimes, though, we complicate it. In remembering the lost package, you might berate yourself, wondering why you were so stupid. You might recall all the trouble that resulted from that lost package.

You might go about trying to enjoy your day, but you find yourself unable to lose yourself in a good book or exercise because whenever you start to relax, you tell yourself, “I have to remember about the package. And what if it gets lost, anyway?” You begin to worry.

When Identity Gets Involved

This week I had a lost-package issue. I needed to send the original copy of a necessary legal document to someone else. I was vocal about my reluctance to do this, but the authorities in the situation insisted.

Then it appeared that the document got lost. My first reaction was, “Why didn’t they listen to me?” (a variant of “I told you so.”). My second was “Why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me?”

I was flooded with memories from my childhood when it seemed that no one had listened to me, accompanied by pain and anger. None of it was fun, but the opportunity occurred to step back and see how these childhood incidents had given rise to beliefs that filtered my present experience and influenced the future. I believed that no one listened to me, and I got evidence for that belief.

Mindfulness Can Help Clear Out the Past

I’m not going into specific details about the method I used. It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), and if you haven’t heard about it, you can read more here.

It’s not the only method that works. People can get relief through meditation, mindful breathing, and other techniques. The vital first step is to recognize that a persistent regret or worry or any negative emotion is keeping you from fully experiencing the present. Once you have that mindful awareness, you’re on your way.

By the way, so was my document. I got it yesterday.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mindfulness of Snow

Today, April 4, it's snowing and has been all day. My kitten, Roo, has been sitting all day in front of the sliding doors watching. Maybe she's tracking the fall of each snowflake. Maybe she's been lulled into a snow-induced trance.

To make it clear how much she's engaged with the falling snow, this morning, at the time when she expects treats and complains about the slightest delay in receiving them, she instead continued her snow vigil. Only later, when the snow had temporarily stopped falling, did she review her morning and remember what had been missing from it.

While she meditated, I agitated.

Snow in April, so unfair. Should I go to my chi kung class? I never miss it. It's only down the road, but the parking lot hasn't been plowed. My car is covered with snow. The roads might be unsafe. But I always go. I hate to miss it.

On and on the cycle of anxious thoughts went until it was clear that even if I suddenly changed my mind and decided to go to the class, I would be very late. Then I relaxed.

It is said that animals are creatures of habit that follow strict and unvarying patterns for the purpose of safety and protection. Yet this morning, I was the creature made anxious by a deviation from my invariable routine. Meanwhile, the animal forgot her habits and sat by the sliding doors, enraptured by the wonder of snow.