Learning Mindfulness to Juggle Life
Driving home the other day, my little girl asked me if I knew how to juggle. "No" I said, "But your daddy does." "I know." She said. "How does he do that?" We started talking about being able to pay attention to more than one thing at a time and getting into a flow that feels almost like dancing and how sometimes you juggle things like balls or oranges and sometimes you juggle life.
I might not know how to juggle balls, but this conversation got me thinking about juggling life. Like most working moms (and dads), I find myself juggling life almost constantly. There is my never-ending work to-do list which is a juggle in itself between being present and helpful with clients clinically and paperwork demands and building my practice since we moved cross-country this past year. There are all the things that need to be done around the house...cooking, cleaning, yard work, maintenance, etc... There is my family life and all that entails: parenting, staying connected with a very rich, complex family network, and prioritizing my marriage. Oh...and then there are all my own needs like play and rest, staying true to my values and spirituality, managing my own mind and body, making friends (my current personal goal), and just generally making sure I'm not coming off the rails.
I'm sure many of you can relate.
Sometimes, it feels like all my balls are spilling around me.
When this happens, the tendency is to build momentum. Life starts spinning. It feels like I have no time. My shoulders tighten. My breathing gets shallow. My mind starts racing through all the things on my to-do list. My sleep gets disturbed and pretty soon I'm short-tempered and generally no fun to be around. I am dropping balls like crazy.
But when I remember to fight the momentum and ground myself instead--focusing on mindfulness--my world starts to slow down and I am usually able to find my balance. Mindfulness for me means two things: 1) Bring my focus to the here and now. And 2) get my priorities straight.
1. Focus on the HERE and NOW
First, I bring my attention to my body--just noticing how my body feels, what position I am in, what feels tight, neutral, and good...all without judgment. I notice how fast my thoughts are moving. I notice if they are positive or negative thoughts. Again I try to do this without judgment and without actually thinking about the thoughts. It is just a way to help me gauge how off kilter I am in that moment. I notice any feelings that might be hanging around and just try to name them.
Second, I bring my attention to my immediate surroundings. What do I hear? I look around me and try to appreciate anything nice or beautiful that I might have otherwise been missing. What do I smell? What is the temperature like? Even if the weather is awful or there is something really uncomfortable happening around me, bringing my attention to just being aware and curious (you'll notice I did not say fixing it) helps me to start feeling more grounded--more connected to myself and my present.
Once I'm grounded back into the moment and not so stuck in my head, I turn to prioritizing.
2. Get My Priorities Straight
At the beginning of the post, I listed off a bunch of things that I have to juggle...work, chores, family, and me. It's interesting because every time I feel like I'm losing the juggling battle, this is the order in which I find my thoughts stacking up. Work. Chores. Family. Me. As soon as I am grounded, however, I see how lopsided my priorities have become. When I am clear-headed and acting from my best self, my priorities are much different: I have to start with me because if I'm not right with me, nothing will be straight. Then comes family. Then work and finally chores. When everything is stacked according to my priorities, it is all very secure and balanced. The juggle becomes fluid and starts to feel like a dance. I start enjoying my life again.
So, if you are struggling to keep all your balls in the air today, give this mindfulness 1-2 punch a try. You might find that you are able to juggle after all.