Quickly, Mindfully

Picture this: Seattle, 2001. I’ve just finished a lunch hour yoga class at a downtown gym and, in earshot of the instructor, I start rolling up my mat and muttering about how I need to rush back to my admin job at the insurance company upstairs.   I can see her corkscrew grey-blonde curls and pale calm face as she turns to me and says, “See if you can move quickly, but also mindfully.”


This seemed like a crazy idea. I chewed on it as I scurried back to the elevator bank, watched my heart rate quicken and my breath grow short. Clearly, I could do the “quickly” but what was this “mindfully” all about?

For the next 16 years, I chewed on that idea. As I ripened into a therapist, I often wondered, is it possible to be quick and also mindful? That tiny exercise, given to me by that yoga instructor, has been a regular experiment in my life and has helped me grow into a person who can watch herself without judgment, much of the time.   Or at least more of the time.   There has been progress.

That mindful noticing has shown me some things about how I do life:

-I’ve noticed that often – when I’m trying to learn something, like being more mindful – I like to let perfection be the goal.

-I’ve noticed that when perfection is the goal I ignore any progress I’m making.

-I’ve noticed that when I do notice the progress, I tell myself it’s not good enough.

– I’ve noticed that when I ignore or shame my progress, I never get so much as within spitting distance of perfection.

Those insights have been beyond helpful. And they came simply from noticing myself.

During that 16 years, mindfulness has taken over as an American buzzword for how to manage our stressful lives. And as a therapist in 2017, it is almost neglectful to treat a client without discussing mindfulness.   We have apps like Headspace and Smiling Mind to help you meditate. You can sign up for a steady feed of Deepak Chopra emails to keep you focused on your most mindful life choices. Heck, you can do yoga, Nia, Tai Chi, Pilyogarobics for goodness sakes and I’m sure they will all get around to talking about mindfulness. But what exactly is it?

Today I told a client, “This is how you do it. Slow down and watch yourself feel and think and act. Name each thing you notice, without judgment.”

“Oh,” she said knowingly, “without judgment.” As if this was the key to the kingdom.

Then, I told her, “Yes, and if you begin to judge, watch yourself judging.   You can say something like, “there’s me judging.” Or, “there’s me judging myself for judging when I was trying not to judge.”

And that, my friends, is it.

Let’s notice the urge to complicate mindfulness.

Let’s notice the thought that we need to be perfect at mindfulness to begin practicing being mindful.

Then, – en route to our next destination – let’s see if we can move quickly, but also mindfully.

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