I turned the dryer on to freshen up the load I had abandoned days ago. As I turned and faced the unsorted pile of clothes on the floor I began to notice a very familiar, automatic stream of negative thoughts begin to play in my head. “Geez! Can’t anyone put anything in a basket?…Is it that hard?…It would really help make this hellish job easier for me.” My physical aversion to the task began to gain strength and I became aware that my discomfort immediately intensified when I noticed the socks. Ugh! Lots of sweaty, smelly gym socks not turned right-side-out! I continued to be aware of the steam of automatic thoughts as they played on. It was as if they had a life of their own. “How hard is it to turn your sock right-side-out? It takes all of two seconds! Now I have to put my hand in this smelly sock. Damn you guys!” There it was, the source of my discomfort! I felt unappreciated and taken advantage of. My discomfort reached its peak when I imagined my guys standing in front of the door, carelessly tossing their inside-out socks into the pile like little gremlins out to make my job miserable. Although this isn't true, it’s the story I was making up in my mind. It had to be someone else’s fault that I was suffering.
Our suffering is rarely what we think it is at first glance. It’s what we bring to the task that often goes unchecked and hijacks our present moment experience. We add to the suffering. This unawareness leads to creating stories in the mind that take on a life of their own and cause us habitual suffering. Imagine the mother who is upset because, due to work, is unable to attend a school event for her child. Already feeling bad, she blames work for being so demanding, gets angry at her boss, curses her husband for never taking time off, questions the job she is doing as a mother, compares herself to others and ends up in a suffering loop of guilt and self deprecation. Sound familiar? We all fall into these mind traps at one time or another, but by being mindful; inquiring and getting curious about what thoughts we are attending to, we can gain insight into ourselves and minimize our suffering.
I still hate laundry and when the piles get too high, I notice that familiar, automatic stream of negative thoughts begin to play in my head. However, being mindful allows me to notice this much sooner now and provides a space for me to make a different choice for myself. Instead, I intentionally bring my awareness to these thoughts and do my best to let them go by bringing my attention back to the simple task in front of me. It takes practice and a great deal of self compassion. Most of the time I'm successful in limiting my suffering. Nonetheless, I won’t pretend that every once in a while I don’t pass by that room, see a big pile of clothes and flip it the bird!
Be Mindful: Practice paying attention
Mindfulness requires very little planning. Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to practice. This week practice paying attention to where your mind is at. Be curious, inquire. Notice if you are thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Notice if you are present in your life or present in the story in your mind. If you find that you are lost in thoughts that may be causing you to suffer, simply acknowledge this again and again, gently, gracefully, compassionately. With continued practice, mindfulness may help you to find away out of your own suffering and offer you more moments of clarity and calm.