Mindfulness isn't necessary throughout each waking hour of our lives, especially the crappy ones.
We’ve all been urged at some point to enjoy every minute of life because before we know it, we’ll be wistfully looking back on our younger years, probably from a rocking chair on a creaky porch, wishing we’d slowed down more often to enjoy the sweeter moments. Never mind that people tend to say this when the current moment is, for us, about as unenjoyable as it can get, like while holding a fussy infant or rushing to get home and collapse on the couch after a long, exhausting day. What’s often particularly frustrating about the exhortation to enjoy every minute is the guilt it induces when we realize that at present, we’re doing the exact opposite.
But ultimately, of all the minutes that make up a person’s day, the vast majority of them do not qualify as “bask in this beautiful drop in the bucket of time” kind of moments. Most of them are full of monotony, and often, they’re just plain unpleasant. So is there some mental method for shoving aside the boredom or dissatisfaction and instead joyfully savoring such times as loading the same mac and cheese crusted plates and utensils back into the dishwasher for yet another cycle? Is that what the practice of mindfulness is all about?
No. Not by a long shot. Mindfulness, as the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center explains, “means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” Having such awareness certainly doesn’t require finding satisfaction in each passing moment. Furthermore, practically speaking, this awareness isn’t necessary throughout each waking hour of our lives. “Personally, when it comes to day-to-day routines, I’m all about the opposite of mindfulness,” mom and writer Peyton Price wittily asserts. “Distraction is the key to surviving parenthood.”
As for savoring every minute, in this time-bound life consisting of bliss but also a fair share of Bad News Bears occasions, the truth is that that not doing so is a very natural part of being human. In response to this popular notion that we ought to be finding joy in every last moment, author and certified life coach Ruth O’Neil said to me, “It’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it?” In fact, she went on to say, “It’s too much pressure. It’s so unnatural.”
How to practice Catholic mindfulness
Ruth explained that what is natural is acknowledging our dissatisfaction while enduring trying times. “The more transparent you can be with yourself in those moments, [the better]. Try to bring humor into it and just be real.” Forsaking the effort to scrape up some slice of happiness in the midst of unfavorable times does not at all indicate that someone is joyless. “People think that joy is a feeling,” Ruth acknowledged. “But joy is so not a feeling. Joy is an internal state of mind. It’s a condition of our heart. We can be so joyful and still be so sad.”
So yes, it’s perfectly okay to not enjoy or attempt to savor every waking moment. “We’re humans,” Ruth stated. “We experience the human condition on a moment by moment basis.” And so many of our moments are tedious or tragic and just not naturally savored. Plenty are easily embraced, like unexpected acts of love and long awaited accomplishments. As for all the rest, it’s perfectly natural to grit our teeth and await their passage.
“I can’t pretend the trenches are mountain tops, and all the rough ways are smooth,” Missional Mother blogger Lee Stewart expresses. “I will savor all the laughter, all the hugs … But I will elbow my way through the other stuff until I get to the savory on the other side.”