Making Any Activity Mindful

As much as I like cooler weather, I look forward to being able to drive home while the sun is still high in the sky. The extra bit of time opens up so much opportunity for outdoor activities that would otherwise have to wait until the weekend. I love going to local parks to just walk around, playing basketball, and fishing. All of these hobbies require some level of cooperation with mother nature, of course. With the right conditions, I can engage in one of my favorite self-care activities as well- mindful immersion.

For a recap on the basic principles of mindfulness including mindful immersion, feel free to check out my post:

About five years ago, I was seeing a clinical psychologist. She came from a rather unique perspective having had Freudian training and now practiced Buddhism. This contrasted well with my cognitive-behavioral point of view towards the human psyche and definitely made for some interesting conversations. After my emotional wall finally came down following six months of intense weekly sessions, my psychologist pushed for me to engage in meditation exercises to address my emotional awareness. I struggled with bringing awareness to my true feelings deep down. They were often shielded away by rationalization and emotional numbing.

We tried guided meditations, deep breathing, and even some Buddhist forms of meditation in session. I did fine with her guidance. However, she pushed time and time again to practice meditation outside of session. It was a skill that needed to be practiced, and I knew this.

I decided that I would try it first thing in the morning and right before bed, which were the two times that my thoughts ran rampant. I thought meditation might be a good way to bring awareness to my thoughts and get them under control. I went as far as downloading an meditation app that came with a timer and sounded a gong at the end of your session.

I sat on the edge of my bed, set the timer, and went for it. My psychologist had recommended starting off with just five minutes.Five minutes might not sound like a long time, but it feels like an eternity when you force yourself to sit with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Almost immediately, I understood why five minutes. My mind flooded. I struggled with controlling my thoughts and feelings. They controlled me.

I tried several more times on my own before giving up. When my psychologist checked in with me during the next session, I fessed up. I felt like I let her down. She pushed for me to try it again on my own. I tried again. To no avail, I got the same results. During my next session, she asked me how it went. I was honest with her. This was going to be harder than I thought.

I could tell that I was making my psychologist think. I could not pinpoint her exact feelings though, but I could tell it was somewhere between frustration and contemplative. She probed my brain and asked me if there were any activities where I felt “at peace.” She elaborated and clarified if there were any activities that I did before that brought me this feeling. I brainstormed and thought back to when I played pool. She made this my homework assignment between sessions. I reluctantly agreed.

It is not that I did not enjoy playing pool, but it had been forever since I last played. At the time, there was a pool hall down the road from my job. As a man of my word, I drove straight there after work one day. I went in by myself with the intention of “shooting around” for shits and giggles. There was no pressure. It was just me, my stick, the balls, and the table.

thats what she said

I racked the balls. I placed the cue ball on the other side of the table. I lined up my shot. I cocked my cue back and cracked the whip. Damn, that felt good. It felt good to be back in a safe, secure environment without interruptions from the outside world. There were no employees, clients, friends, family members, girlfriends, and so on to worry about. I was doing this for me.

I did play all that great that day, but I did not give two shits. It just felt nice to be playing again. As I played, I noticed something. I was fully immersed. I was calm. My mind felt relaxed. It was focused on the present move and working towards a goal of clearing the table. My psyche was clear of its usual clutter. I grounded myself in objective reality. I had taken the principles of meditation, and mindfulness in particular, and had applied them to playing pool.

It turned out that my psychologist had played one of her Jedi mind tricks on me. It was not that I could not meditate. I just needed to discover my own form of meditation. This was probably one of my first lessons in the importance of flexibility in one’s self-care. Without that flexibility, I would still be struggling with my thoughts and feelings. Instead, I expanded my mindful immersion to other activities like blogging, video games, fishing, and even hanging out with friends. Any activity can be a mindful one if you put your mind to it.

-The Caring Counselor

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