Mindfulness (Part 2)
Last updated: July 2021
Editor's note: this is part 2 of a 2-part series. Be sure to read part 1!
As a young kid, I was fast and furious with everything. Somehow, I was successful at it too. But it all started to become challenging as I grew up. Problems were becoming more prominent and more complex with time. Trying to do everything quickly meant I did not put enough time to plan, design, and execute. This approach ends up with a mess at some point, big or small, with varying consequences.
After a few mess-ups, I realized that my mistakes did not necessarily arise from incompetence or ignorance. Instead, they were due to a lack of focus and awareness on my part. I was not focused enough on most of the cases.
Unaware of my surroundings, I acted in haste. I took too little time to stop and reflect.
For me to learn to slow down, I first needed to know to stop. The goal was to slow down, but I was going so fast that the initial practice had to STOP. This meant taking time to stop by forcing myself to take a break, breathe in and out about ten times, and reconnect with my body, senses, and surroundings.
Slowly but consistently, I felt the improvements in myself. I felt calmer and more in tune with myself and my surroundings. I also observed how less reactive I felt. I was able to slow down and be more present.
A boxing analogy
I learned that it is about letting time be, to understand what is happening around me and in me. In some cases, it is also about "taking the heat." The analogy I think of is boxing. When a boxer gets hit in the ring, the blow can be disorienting. At that moment, the fighter probably will not even know where she or he is. This moment can be a split second or even several seconds. The reflex is to try to get up and fight back. But that is a reaction time when the boxer does not know what she or he is doing.
Boxing coaches will probably instruct that one stays down if needed, often for the full count. Thus, the fighter would have enough time to absorb the hit, recover, and, if possible, fight back without endangering himself.
Taking the time
In less violent situations, sitting with the heat means taking the time to observe and allowing things to simmer before acting. During that time, the emotions gradually give back control to the brain, allowing more deliberate, informed, and cautious next steps.
Speed is relative, but regardless of the speed, going too fast can cause one not to pay adequate attention and miss some important cues. This led me to begin trying to integrate awareness practices into my daily routines to the point that it became second nature to help me be still, to remain calm and mindful under any circumstance, even while eating.
On mindful eating
When I share my news and updates with my therapist Amanda, she likes to ask me, "did you capture the moment?" or "how did you celebrate?" Over time, with her help, I realized that I did not only tend to rush, but I also moved on quickly to the next thing. Plus, I did not take time to celebrate life's moments.
I was grateful and happy, but I was going and going and constantly asking myself, "OK - what's next?". Therefore, my assignment was to tame that eager beaver in me and slow down. One area that best captured this challenge was how I ate. Eating was more of a utility for me. I was not eating slowly nor mindfully.
When I was young, I had gastritis. My mom explained to me that "it's because you eat too fast." She often repeated this to me, but it took me many years to get this lesson right. Now, my approach to food has shifted in a big way. I make a ritual of it. I do my best to sense the food I am eating, feel it, and taste it.
Whether it is some delicious spaghetti, a piece of chocolate, or some thieboudienne (our popular dish in Senegal), my experience with eating has improved. Thanks to me eating better and managing stress better, my stomach issues have also relaxed. I needed to slow down and enjoy the moments more.
Starting with mindful eating is a simple and accessible way to practice awareness. We eat and drink multiple times a day. In my case, I am experiencing life more deeply. I have noticed that practicing the techniques above has helped me become more confident, more in control, and calmer, even in stressful moments. Lastly, I find that practicing awareness and mindfulness helps me be the best patient to my medical team, a better parent to my child, a better husband, and in general, a better human being.
Thank you for being here and thank you for reading about how I practice my mindfulness. I hope that you found it helpful and that you would be happy to share notes with me.
Love and Light!
Have you experienced shortness of breath in the last week?