By Amy Glynn
Everyday my cats circle my feet like piranhas hungry for their last meal, only this is not their last meal and they get fed every morning at the same time. They jump on the counter, scratch my leg, meow helplessly even though doing so just makes it take longer before they get their half a can of organic, all natural, grain-free, cat food that’s given to them every morning at 8:30am.
I took a mindfulness class. “mindfulness through meditation.” An hour and a half each week to sit on the floor with a group of strangers for the low price of just $5.
Paying for mindfulness just seems somehow wrong, as if paying for something will help ease your mind from the problems living in a capitalistic society entails. I wonder if the Buddha had any concept of mindfulness becoming a commodity when he sat cross-legged under the Bodhi tree.
Each week I sat, trying to let my wandering mind be. We were supposed to breathe in and out, counting each breath until we hit 20 but starting over whenever our mind wandered from just focusing on our breath.
I think I made it to 1 and a half, but who’s counting?
We had to do an exercise where we stood in a circle and held our arms straight out in front of us, parallel to the floor. We were supposed to focus on the discomfort this caused and release our arms whenever we were ready to put them down. I counted my breaths, tried to focus on how my arms were getting tired, pulled by gravity to the ground, how my abs had to tighten to stabilize my body, how the weight in my legs spread out along my toes. Seconds went by and several of my classmates dropped their arms one-by-one. What felt like hours (probably only a few minutes) the teacher told us to release our arms and discuss what we had experienced. I was one of the last people with my arms still up. One woman said the exercise made her feel anxious because having her arms getting tired reminded her how out of shape she was. Another man said it was a lot more tiring than he had anticipated. Then the teacher asked, for those of you who kept your arms up the entire time even though you were causing yourself discomfort, I ask you why?
I’m sure some therapist could analyze my lack of putting my arms down, causing myself some pain, with a well thought out answer like I push myself too hard and don’t take breaks, maybe that I’m overly competitive, or unwilling to take risks, putting my arms down only when the teacher did. Maybe these are all dead-on answers worth exploring, but whatever the reason, I didn’t put my arms down, and got even more uncomfortable and self-conscious if I tried.
I don’t put my arms down even though I know it causes me discomfort, my cats jump on the counter everyday even though it makes it take longer before they get fed. I go to work at a women’s health center everyday even though I believe working within this oppressive, capitalistic system (even though I work for a women’s center which employs almost all women, and predominately women of color, queer individuals, and women from other countries and cultures) only upholds it rather than dismantles it.
The money I make at that job goes towards buying my cats organic, all natural, grain-free cat food and mindfulness classes.
My teacher said to try and insert mindfulness before you react. Something happens, insert mindfulness, accept emotions as they come in a non-judgmental way, as opposed to have something happen (like spilling coffee on myself) and immediately reacting (screaming and yelling at myself).
I think about inserting mindfulness when I see unarmed black bodies dead by uniformed white hands.
I think about inserting mindfulness when I see a young person buy an extra coffee to give to the stranger behind her in line.
I think about inserting mindfulness in an age when our “Capital” has become measured by attention span, when we view something for 3 seconds before we are uninterested and move on to the next sound bite.
I wonder how this ancient practice of mindfulness has been continuously taught for hundreds of years and wonder how to insert it when we’ve cut down all the Bodhi trees?