A couple of weeks ago, I saw an intriguing book in the bookstore. “How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness”, by Jan Chozen Bays. At the moment, I was definitely feeling like a wild elephant. OK, maybe I still am. Scattered, worried, uncoordinated, out of control, etc. I picked it up and found that it was all about being mindful…something I’ve been wanting to work on for a while. So…I bought it.
Basically, the book is broken up into weekly exercises all of which, you guessed it, make us more mindful. What does it mean to be mindful, anyway? One definition I found online describes mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” Let’s face it, in today’s social-media, technology flooded world, it is very hard to be mindful. We are busy, we are distracted, we are worried and we are overwhelmed. Being mindful, or taking the time to work on mindfulness, seems like an impossible task. I’m one to talk….my phone/Facebook/Instagram/apps/videos have become my default way to ‘relax’ and spend my down time. No longer do I just sit, think, reflect, etc.
An example. Doug and I were out to dinner a few weeks ago, and he got up to use the restroom before we left to go to a movie. As soon as he was gone, I pulled out my phone to check, well, I dunno. Probably Facebook. Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been an option. I would have sat there, on my own, spending time with my thoughts. Or maybe people watching. Planning, Thinking. Observing. Just resting my mind. But we don’t make time for that anymore.
Back to mindfulness. So the first exercise in this book is to spend a week using your non-dominant hand to do everyday tasks. Eating/drinking, brushing teeth, brushing hair, etc. If you’re up for a big challenge, try writing with your non-dominant hand!
Because life can be so automatic, I did what I could to remind myself (aka ‘be mindful’) of this task. I put a bandaid on my left thumb every day for a week (Batman bandaids, if you must know!). I put a post-it note on my computer to remind me to use my left hand on the trackpad of my work laptop. I also put one on the mirror in my bathroom as a reminder.
Some tasks I did left handed included eating, drinking, using the trackpad on my laptop, holding my phone, brushing hair and teeth, even shaving my legs! What did I notice? I was slow! Clumsy! It was laborious and pain-staking and it took a great deal of will to not just give up and use my right hand. I became very frustrated and impatient with some things. Some tasks actually tired out my hand and arm, which wouldn’t have been an issue with my right hand.
It made me think about kids I work with who have difficulties with fine motor tasks. Some of the students I work with struggle SO MUCH with what we would consider easy tasks-writing our name, cutting with scissors, tying our shoes, even zipping up our jacket. It made me more compassionate to their struggles, and also made me think about those who struggle with tasks like this due to stroke, old age, or other physical compromises.
My big take-away from this week is that some of our habits are SO ingrained and SO automatic, and take a great deal of attention and mindfulness to change. I think it’s safe to say that there are all habits we have that we wish we could change. But they CAN be changed if we pay close attention to our habits and become intentional and persistent in working to change them. Secondly, it made me realize that although we tend to become more inflexible (physically and mentally!) as we get older, we can become more flexible in our thinking as we age. Nothing is set in stone, and life becomes more enjoyable as our flexibility increases. Lastly, it made me realize, gratefully, that we can learn new things. We can adapt and grow and develop and learn. And what an amazing gift that is!
Go ahead, give it a try! I challenge you to use your non-dominant hand for a day, a week!
“Our dominant hand might be forty years old, but the non-dominant hand is much younger, perhaps about two or three years old. … This task illustrates how strong and unconscious our habits are and how difficult they are to change without awareness and determination. … Using the non-dominant hand reveals our impatience. It can help us become more flexible and discover that we are never too old to learn new tricks.”
– Jan Chozen Bays
This week’s mindfulness challenge…
Leave no trace.
Watch for an update next week!