Thursday, June 07, 2012

Making One Whole Day a Mindful Experience

Note to readers: For their final writing projects this semester, students in the Happiness class were required to spend a day being mindful, keeping journal entries all day, and then later reflecting on the day and how it made them realize or appreciate what they have learned from the class. Several of the final papers were just wonderful; here is a second. 

By Marissa Grumm

            I chose to do my day of mindfulness on the weekend. I thought it would be easier to focus on mindfulness because I usually have a lot less going on during the weekends than I do on weekdays. I thought it would be easier to really focus on incorporating mindfulness into my day. When I first woke up I made sure I wrote in my journal my intention for the day. I wanted to take these 24 hours and try to experience them differently than I had in the past.
In “Waking up,” Thich Nhat Hanh talks about how easily our days “slip into forgetfulness.” He stresses the importance of treating every moment as the gift that it is and to make sure that you are present and thankful.  I wanted to stay true to the assignment and try to be as mindful as possible all throughout the day. We have had discussions in class about misconceptions about being mindful – sometimes people think being mindful means that we need to set time aside in our day for it. It came up a few times during our class presentations when we learned of individuals who spend a year doing a project to become happier. They set aside all of their obligations for a certain period of time to devote their attention to their pursuit of happiness. I myself have given the excuse in mindfulness teacher Lenore Flynn’s class that I couldn’t participate in the previous week’s assignment because I had too much going on and I didn’t have enough time. What I wanted to get out of this day of mindfulness was that I could go about my everyday life, do chores, eat, do homework, and still be mindful about it. Instead of putting time aside to be mindful I wanted to spread it throughout the whole day. If I could successfully go about all my tasks for the day with a sense of self and the present moment there isn’t a need to assign time to be mindful, I would be doing it the whole time. I feel like some people see being mindful as a task that they put on their to do list for the day. My goal was to be able to be mindful today and hopefully to try to apply it to everyday of my life after today.

            During the day I had some chores I had to get done. I had to go to a couple stores and pick things up for myself and other people. I had to do a lot of driving and that did not make me particularly happy. I don’t really like driving; I often rush when I do just to get to where I need to be. I don’t like the craziness of the other drivers and sometimes it even gives me a little anxiety. That day I tried to look at driving differently. I wanted to have more patience when I was driving and maybe try and actually enjoy it. In the reading by Thich Nhat Hanh, “Washing the Dishes” he spoke about how doing dishes is often times looked at as an unpleasant task. Many times people rush through it and he explains that when we hurry through a task “time will be unpleasant and not worth living.” He explains that when we stop and do things more mindfully, something as simple as washing dishes could be done with joy. I think the real message that Thich Nhat Hanh was trying to get across is that no chore is torture. It is possible to find joy in anything that we may not particularly like. It is important to strive to find joy in everything thing we do because that makes life worth living.
            I thought of this when I was driving. I asked myself  “how could I drive mindfully?” In Thich Nhat Hanh's book “Peace is Every Step” he talked briefly about mindful driving. He said that when we drive we tend to “think only about arriving.” We neglect to focus on what is going on in the moment when we are driving and get easily frustrated and angry when something happens that delays our arrival. He spoke about using red lights as “bell of mindfulness” and using them as a chance to connect with the moment and your breath. I made a point to use those “bells of mindfulness” but I also decided to take a pause every time I sat in my car. Before I turned the key in the ignition and put the car in drive I stopped and took three long deep breathes. That instantly calmed me and put me in a more mindful mind set for my drive to my next destination. This made me feel a lot calmer and gave me a chance to reconnect with me and how I was feeling. Ultimately I think this made my driving experience a lot more enjoyable because it slowed me down. I wasn’t rushing and I had a better time reacting to other drivers who may have turned in front of me or cut me off. Honestly driving in that mindset made it seem like my chores went by a lot after and before I knew it I was back in my apartment. I no longer saw driving as a chore but as Thich Nhat Hanh saw washing the dishes, as a joyful 
            I made a point to eat one meal mindfully during the day. I chose breakfast because all I had was a bowl of cereal and milk and I thought it would be easier to eat something that had less components to it. I have always had a hard time eating mindfully and this time was no exception. Even though it was a simple dish I found that the longer I took to eat my cereal the more soggy my Cheerios got. It was a little frustrating and I did catch myself thinking at times that I should just pick another meal. But I decided I wanted to stick to it. Eating this meal also got me thinking how grateful I am to have it. There are so many people in this world that would give anything for the bowl of cereal and milk I was eating. Later in the day when I went into the supermarket I thought of this again. So many people in this country are so lucky to be able to walk into a grocery store and have all these different kinds of food to their disposal. There are places in the world where people only have a cup, if that of bland white rice to eat a day and here we are walking into stores that have hundreds of different kinds of rice among tons of other ingredients to cook it with. I thought of how easily taken for granted these luxuries are. It made be feel so grateful for the food I have. I always feel a little bit of guilt when a restaurant gets my order wrong and immediately throws the whole dish out and makes a new one. Our society has grown to view having food as a right and not a privilege and it has caused us to act extremely wasteful towards it. 
            At one point of my day I went to the store to buy my mother a Mother’s Day present. I wanted to get her a bead for the Pandora bracelet she got for Christmas. Usually when I buy gifts for people I just buy something I think they might like and just get it to get it. Although there is some meaning behind it I don’t spend too much time really thinking about it. However this time was different. I made a point to bring mindfulness into the selection process of this present. As I was looking at them I knew which ones I thought were pretty and which ones I would want someone to buy me, but I tired to take a different point of view when picking one this time. I thought about my mom and which on she would be excited to receive. Then I thought of why I was buying her this gift. This brought so much more meaning to the whole process. It become so much easier to pick one out when I thought of how much my mom deserves something beautiful. I am so grateful for to have such a wonderful mother and I knew when she opened this present she would absolutely love it. I was no longer just buying her a present to simply get her something for Mothers day I was buyer her something with a purpose and that made it ten times more special.
            My day of mindfulness highlighted a lot of things that I am really grateful for. When I was buying my mother her present I realized how grateful I am for my family. I am so lucky to have the relationship I have with my parents and sisters. I know a lot of people that have broken relationships with their parents and siblings and it just makes me realize how lucky I am. For some a simple conversation on the phone with their family is torture and often times ends in tears and I am so thankful that I can call anyone in my family and any point in the day and our conversations will always end with an I love you.
            Another thing I am extremely thankful for is all of the food I have access too. I couldn’t help but think all throughout the day how lucky I am to have all these choices of things to eat. I know that most people in the world do not have this luxury and I am going to try and make a bigger effort to not take for granted this privilege. I feel like I do this most when I don’t finish everything on my plate and then just throw it out. Instead of doing this I could save it for another day or give it to someone else.
            I am also incredibly grateful for my body. I was fortunate enough to not be born with any handicaps. I have the ability to walk, run, speak, hear, touch and breathe. It is so easy for me to take these little everyday things I do for granted because I engage in them without really noticing. But when I took those few minutes to pause throughout the day I realized how lucky I am to be able to do everything that I can. And instead of driving to every single store through out the day, if there was one that was in walking distance I walked, because I could.
            Overall I think my day being as mindful as possible was a success. There were times when I may have forgotten to focus on the moment but I did not judge myself for it. When I became aware of it, I accepted it and took that moment to become mindful. It is not an easy thing to go about your day 100% mindfully. Especially in the society we live in today, it is easy to get caught up in what just happened or what has yet to happen and not focus on what is going in this present moment. Mindfulness is something I will need to work on everyday and I accept the fact, without judgment that I may never be perfect with it.

Marissa Grumm is entering her final semester at the University at Albany. She will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with honors and a minor in Business Administration in hopes of pursuing a career in Marketing and Public Relations. To read another student's final mindfulness project, see the post by Meghan Madden that ran in MyStoryLives on May 30th.

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