Here I am in the fourth of six Wednesday classes at UNF. The OLLI course (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) is called “Mindfulness Basics: Enhancing and Sustaining Mindful Awareness” and the teacher is Dr. Toni Nixon who has given a Tedx talk and is brilliant. We (23 of us, mostly women and a few men) like her very much. We sit in silence for 35 minutes while she quietly tells us to breathe, listen, hear, feel… We are doing our “practice,” another word for meditation.
Practice simply (not so simply as it turns out) helps us tune out worries about tomorrow: the laundry we must do, the food we must put on the table, the money we owe, the really annoying political scene. Or maybe the chemo we must endure. Our monkey minds constantly spin with thoughts we want to banish for at least a while. This constant mental static causes us worlds of anxiety, and sucks us into a whirlpool of stress, which is responsible for making us sick. Apparently 75 to 90 percent of all sickness relates to stress. Most of us don’t know what to do with this tension. Can’t we have a pick-up day for us to throw out our anxiety? Bring on a 90-gallon plastic bin so we can dump our anxiety in it. No bin? Breathe, observe what’s happening, make a decision and proceed, Toni says.
The first three classes I settled into seated mountain posture with my classmates, hands in my lap, shoulders, spine, legs and arms relaxed. Toni gently hits a chime three times on her desk, which signifies practice is about to commence. We try to banish our botherations and throw ourselves back to the days when we sat in Tibet with Siddhartha and meditated.
OK, well not exactly.
This Wednesday is different from my earlier three classes. I’d won the triple crown that morning: a call, not texts—a miracle—from my granddaughter, my daughter, and… my son. Driving to class I levitated with happiness onto the campus. The calls were brimming with happy delights: My granddaughter came in first in two swimming races, surprising for a Division One college freshman, my daughter was blossoming with her new job, loving every minute, and my son, well, I can’t remember what his latest triumph was, but it’s always something.
It’s ten minutes into this week’s practice, and I deserve to be put in the time-out chair, even though there is none. Actually, if people are thrown out of class for misbehaving, I should be tossed out. Why? Because today I simply cannot stop my own monkey mind from misbehaving and taking dictation from whomever it is (somebody upstairs?) who gives me essay ideas. About 30 years ago I knew if I didn’t scrawl what I wanted to write about some day, it would disappear. Over the years I told my students “Use a notepad! Take it with you everywhere.” But writing and meditating (practicing) don’t go together.
Today in class I can’t stop jotting down a few phrases for one of my weekly Ponte Vedra Recorder columns. Up until four years ago. I’d be at a movie or concert and would have to write down a few phrases to spark an idea for a piece I wanted to write. So disconcerting. I have, over time, taught myself to let the creative muse sleep a bit so I can live my life.
Today, thoughts pop up that no amount of measured breathing can crush. I have a notebook and scribble a few distracting thoughts. I write that my daughter told me when her child went back to college after Columbus Day, it was as though a “whirling dervish had vanished.” She and her younger sister had been at each other’s throats just like the old days. “Mom,” she said, “after she left, it was so quiet in the house, like Little House on the Prairie.” I love that. There. I wrote it down. Now I can relax.
There is actually a book called Mindfulness for Dummies. Maybe I should pick it up.