As long as I can remember I have valued the art of multitasking. I adore 2 in 1 machines, even better if they are 3 in 1. Give me a one pot supper to cook and I’m a happy gal. I have gravitated towards work that requires me to have multiple irons in the fire. Even as a child I have clear memories of always playing “restaurant” with my little brother, where I played the haggard waitress trying to keep all the plates spinning and he played the grouchy cook, barking instructions at me. (This may have stuck with Tommy as he is now the manager of a very successful catering business. Hm.)
Anyways, my brain likes to be chewing on several thoughts or tasks at one time. It likes the challenge and I value and definitely prioritize efficiency above all else. And sometimes that’s great! Sometimes that’s necessary! But I learned recently that that inner dialogue of busyness and stress and “Go, Go, Go” isn’t always the healthiest way of doing life.
This came to a head a few weeks ago when I realized I could no longer sleep because my mind wouldn’t quit. Even if I emptied it all out before bed, if I put myself in a vegetative state in front of the TV, the moment my head hit the pillow, the noise began. Everything from things I needed to remember to do, to recipes I wanted to cook, to even whatever last Taylor Swift song I heard, complete with her trying so hard to be sexy, “Are you ready for it?” chorus would begin buzzing around. In fact, that is a great way to describe it, my head was just simply buzzing all the time.
From my battle with depression earlier in the year, I had stumbled upon the power of meditation or, if that slightly middle eastern word freaks you out, the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply that: being mind full of whatever you are doing in the moment. If that’s doing nothing but breathing deep and slow, then it’s filling your mind with the sensations associated with that experience. It’s allowing all five of your senses to focus in on one task or one thought. I. Suck. At. Mindfulness.
This is not an exaggeration. I am the worst. When I started taking up the practice of mindfulness, I started seeing others trying it everywhere. I watched Facebook friends brag about how they could feel their pulse in their fingertips now when they took a moment to be mindful. Even my best friend, who I was sure was stuck in multitasking overdrive like me, when I explained what mindfulness was to her, replied, “Oh yeah. I love doing that. I love walking around, going about my day and thinking about which muscle is moving in which way to allow my knees to bend and straighten, etc etc.” What.
Let me tell you what happens when I hit the start button on my mindfulness app. (Speaking of which, HeadSpace is a great way to learn about mindfulness if you are interested. Super intuitive, super simple, and so versatile. This is not a paid endorsement but hey, HeadSpace, let me know if you want to strike a deal.)
Anyways, I hit start and for about 30 seconds (the amount of time the instructor has you take deep breaths) I am in it. I am there. I am in tune with my lungs filling with air and slowly deflating. I am feeling relaxed. The buzzing stops. I am in it to win it. And then the voice on the app stops. And it’s quiet. And you are supposed to be scanning your body and checking in with each tiny muscle or focusing on the big blank spot that is your mind right now. And this is where my brain decides to throw a party. Random ideas, songs, movie clips, conversations I want to have, will come flooding in and I will spend the rest of the 5 minute session chasing down rabbits.
Now keep in mind, this is actually perfectly normal and the charming and calming voice on the app will even chime in every so often and remind you to gently nudge your brain back towards your breath. But what ended up being impossibly hard for me was the voice’s final instruction. At the end of the session the instructor says the following statement, “Don’t let your time of mindfulness end here. Even as you put away your phone and prepare to go about your day, stay mindful. Think about the muscles you are about to use and how your body will feel as you use them and then go from there. Now, gently open your eyes.”
I open my eyes. I take a deep breath and BAM! I’m out the door. Immediately forgetting to rememberto think about my feet hitting the floor. Or how my muscles are tensing in action. My joints are bending. My brain has already moved on to bigger, better and more complex ideas. I’m thinking about getting Levi’s breakfast ready, the clothes he needs to where that day, where my keys are, how much gas is in my tank, etc. etc. etc. And I am thinking all of these thoughts simultaneously.
So after multiple failed attempts not only at mindfulness in a meditative state, but just being mindful for the 10 seconds after, I decided to implement a new challenge in my life: a toothbrush challenge. I am the proud owner of a timed electric toothbrush. This is not so much because I am techie nerd or even entirely because I am lazy and want to do minimal amounts of work while brushing my own teeth, but mostly because if left to my own devices, I will brush my teeth for approximately 20 seconds each day. Cmon! Places to be! People to see! Tasks to be multitasked! I got better things to do than brush my teeth!
But I don’t really, because my teeth are permanent and we don’t have dental insurance so I decided to buy a device to force me to stand in front of my mirror for two agonizing minutes at a time and brush them. Except I wasn’t just standing in front of my mirror for two minutes at a time. I was bustling around my room, making the bed. Or standing in front of the closet, contemplating what to wear. Or checking my social media feeds to see who went to what awesome event I wasn’t invited to the night before. See? Multitasking.
So I decided to stop multitasking. I challenged myself to stand in front of the mirror for those entire two minutes. And I challenged myself to taste the toothpaste, to feel the vibrations, to count my teeth, to breathe. To simply brush my teeth. I let my toothbrush do all the buzzing.
Now, my family will tell you I still suck at this. They will still see me throwing clothes around as my toothbrush makes that high pitched whine. They will catch me with one eye on my phone. But I am a work in progress. And about 50% of the time I manage to stay put in front of that mirror, eyes relaxed, thoughts honed in.
Here’s why I tell you this now: Christmas is coming. It’s that blessed time of year where our pockets are emptied, our schedules are filled and our hearts breeze from one Mariah Carey song to the next on our holiday playlists. There is so much to get caught up in at Christmas. So much in fact that we can lose sight of why we gather. We can forget that the holidays are a time of family or faith or even food. We multitask the hell out of Christmas because we LOVE it. It gives us all the feels and lately, we need all the feels. But my challenge to myself as I watch the little squares on my calendar fill with dots, is to breathe into the season. Smell the real trees, watch the lights twinkle, hear the sound of my son heartily singing, “Deck the Halls” for the 18th time that hour, feel the weight of the ornaments as they find their resting place on our tree and taste all of the delicious, sharp flavors of Christmas. This on is my favorite. Really taste your favorite Christmas treats. Smell them before you shove them in your mouth. Feel their texture on your tongue and allow yourself a good, “Yum!” as you experience all of those sensations together. Enjoy the real presence of your friends and family this year, not just their digital impressions.
Stand in front of the mirror of Christmas, even just for two minutes at a time and take it all in. Deep breaths in, relaxing breaths out. Enjoy the season.