By Lori Pelikan Strobel
To sit with the uncomfortable and recognize it. To not judge myself for my imperfections. To know it’s all right to be me. To accept this being and body with its many flaws and quirks.
This is mindfulness to me. Mindfulness is not all peace and joy. It’s also recognizing the difficult and awkward. It’s not a place on a map or a location you can come to easily. Sitting here on an uncomfortable bench with the sun on my face, I peer into the forest of trees before me and wonder about the whereabouts of this place called mindfulness. Before me I see paths, a road and a mess of leaves dumped from the outstretched branches above. My attention is drawn to the heart song of birds and I think about the bumpy trail to finding home in the wisdom of imperfection.
I’ve always strived to make everything perfect in my life. It’s my default position—perhaps because I am the eldest sibling or the only daughter, or the mom who needs to make it better for everyone, or the woman who always does what is right. I think I’m just naturally hard wired to seek perfection in myself and I don’t see it changing any time soon. It has served me well, but it has also come with a price—the price of endless worry and anxiety that quietly lies in wait to take me over.
If there is too much stress, I go into full anxiety mode. I get stressed for not understanding or for not being smart enough to figure things out. Why can’t I figure out Photoshop? Or why don’t I understand how my insurance claims are calculated? Why does it seems no one else is worried that they are stuck in traffic and going to be late? Or what if the plane is stuck on the tarmac and I can’t get where I want to go?
When it becomes too much, my fight or flight response kicks in and I want to run screaming, “Let me breathe!”
I don’t like this weakness in me. I don’t feel good about myself when I feel powerless. I want to live authentically and forgive myself for this frailty.
Somehow in learning to practice mindfulness, I began to see this apprehension within myself more clearly, as if through an unfiltered lens. I’ve come to realize that I don’t need to escape my anxiety, but rather I can let go of the feeling that I need to do everything and make everything right. My decisions don’t need to be perfect. I don’t need to understand everything. I don’t have to be on time. I don’t need to fly a plane. We all have special gifts and those aren’t mine. I need to sit with my uncomfortableness and recognize it for what it is. When I sit with this, the curtain of perfection blows away to show me that it’s still me—imperfections and all. My breathe alone—each inhale and exhale—provides me with clarity to bring all of myself to this moment. I now yell, “I can breathe!”
It’s not always easy. All my mess, my flaws, and frustrations are here, and that is all right because I have tools to use when anxiety sneaks in again. Mindfulness has given me this gift. The guided meditation, the yoga, the contemplative thoughts, the focus, the breathe—these are my instruments. I will play them to help me disengage from an unhelpful default mode of music.
Mindfulness is a place of the moment. That moment does not discount my past, my future, or my character. Who I am and what I want to be are so inexplicably entwined. There is no mindfulness without me being who I am and recognizing that there is joy and peace in taking care of myself. Physically and emotionally, a mindfulness practice allows me to discover my goodness and my limits. It allows me to listen to them in a non-judgmental manner. Mindfulness is to engage my mind, enlist my heart, and embrace my love.
A glow of light fills the air as I look out from where I’ve been meditating, and I see the leaves not fall from the trees but rather flutter and float gently to the ground. As I sit here on this warm bench with the sun pouring down on my face, I’m crying. These are not tears of sadness. I’m crying for the realization that I’m ok even when I go to my default position of expecting perfection in myself. I’m crying with relief that somewhere along the way I may have gotten lost in flight and that too is ok. I didn’t even know that I was lost until this perfect moment—this moment as I see the leaves drift with no real destination. They will settle where they find themselves, while I sit here uncomfortably on the bench with the sun shining on my face and say hello again to me.
Lori Pelikan Strobel recently participated in a recent Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course at Copper Beech Institute. She is a wife, mother of two adult daughters and a dog named Louie, and her work experience has ranged from pharmaceutical sales representative and Pilates instructor to community college teacher and real estate agent. You can find more of her writing at www.loripelikan.com.