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In my teens and twenties, when I woke up in the morning from disturbing dreams, I often found that a good way to dispel the lingering feeling of dread was to do something about my hair. That was something I generally had to do anyway in order to get ready for the day, but its oddly therapeutic quality struck me time after time. I'm not the sort of woman who particularly likes doing hair (my own or anyone else's), and am merely average at hairstyling. So I could only conclude that the therapy came from letting go of troubling thoughts by focusing on a mundane task, especially one associated with vanity and a certain amount of whimsy. Doing my hair centered my attention on the here and now, and made me think about what I wanted today to be like, or at least what I wanted today's hair to be like.

I didn't know at the time that this was mindfulness. The mindfulness gurus tell us that to find peace, think only about this moment; be immersed in what you're doing now, and do it with full attention. Do that as often as you can, and those little spells of tranquility will sweeten your whole day; indeed, your whole life. It works, these days, when I manage to do it, but it's the kind of thing kids and youths do instinctively and frequently, and we stressed-out multi-tasking grown-ups have to read lots of books and web posts about before we remember how to do it. And then it still takes tons of practice.

As a kid I used to go out in the backyard and just wander, touching plants and watching the creek flow and swinging on the hammock. I knew what each tree's leaves and fruits and flowers looked like and felt like and smelled like. I'm pretty sure I'm not that familiar with my own garden now, even though I'm one of the primary people in charge of tending it. Now I'm rarely taking my time in the garden and noticing all its details. It's usually a chore I'm rushing through to get to the next ten things I have to do; or gardening is something I'm doing for exercise, and I'm listening to a podcast while I do it, so it's not really the relaxing communing with nature that my childhood lazing in the backyard was.

I don't think it's just about growing up, either. I suspect it's the modern lifestyle, a way of living our parents didn't experience, and indeed, no other generation has ever experienced. With the entire world and its trillions of webpages in our pocket at all times, and our hundreds of "contacts" expecting us to pay attention to their updates hour by hour, we're enslaved to our devices rather than being free to wander and relax. It's no wonder every other person you know is stressed, anxious, and/or depressed, and that we have to ask Google what's wrong with us and find our way to mindfulness posts to figure out a solution. (Part of the solution being, with some irony, to get off the internet more often.)

Quitting Facebook has freed up more of my time, and indeed, I've filled those hours with going outside, sitting or wandering in parks or my own garden, browsing books, and interacting with people in real life. It's all felt a lot healthier than coming up with appropriate comments for an endless scroll of status updates. But I still have worries and troubling thoughts--part of the novelist mindset, I guess--and obviously I had bad dreams and needed to fix my hair to get over them even before the internet was a part of my life.

So: keep fixing your hair. Keep studying leaves in the garden. Keep noticing what's actually around you. I'm mainly telling myself this. But I'm telling you, too. Yes, you. In fact, fix that one piece of hair--there, you got it.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
rachel2205
Sep. 14th, 2015 11:45 am (UTC)
Good post! It's so hard to exist in the moment rather than fretting about the past or thinking of the future.
mollyringle
Sep. 15th, 2015 02:46 am (UTC)
It does take constant discipline, especially for those of us who live in our heads a lot!
travels_in_time
Sep. 14th, 2015 12:01 pm (UTC)
When I can't wander around outside (with a camera, preferably), I find crocheting to be great for taking my mind off things. Following a pattern and counting stitches is great for being in the moment, and I find that I'm usually less stressed if I get to spend part of my commute or lunch hour doing that. I think you're absolutely right about the perceived need to be socially connected. Oddly enough, being too socially connected seems to disconnect us from our own thoughts and feelings. Of course, sometimes I have the opposite problem...there's gotta be a happy medium somewhere. :)
mollyringle
Sep. 15th, 2015 02:51 am (UTC)
I bet knitting/crocheting and similar activities definitely have a meditative quality that way. I should find some hobby that uses my hands more. I like that you mention the camera--I've also noticed that when I focus on trying to take interesting photos, I tend to feel much more relaxed in any given situation. That, too, is probably related to being centered on the present moment, though I hadn't thought about it before.

Social connection is very important, even to us introverts! I think the problem with social media is that it takes up our time without quite providing all the true benefits of social connection. We humans are still working out this internet thing, as it applies to our psychology. :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )