What’s so great about mindfulness?
It seems like almost every day I see an article online or in my news feed that has something to do with mindfulness. I’ve read so much media hype about the idea, it may as well be called McMindfulness, and sold to the public with the slogan: you deserve a break today. For a long time I didn’t even know what mindfulness was, guessing it had something to do with Buddhism or meditation. Several years ago though, I experienced a very potent object lesson on mindfulness.
I was a high school debate coach at the time, and much more interested in Western competition than Eastern thoughtfulness.
Late one afternoon long after school was over and my teaching duties finished, I found myself still working, supervising about 30 of my debaters as they practiced for an upcoming tournament.
I can still hear the metal scraping along the floor tiles as students shoved desks together to arrange their debate stage. In the back of my classroom, Robert, a 17-year-old policy debater, stood over his partner’s desk and started yelling at her.
“This is not Lincoln-Douglas debate! Its’ called Policy, Chrissie, and that counterplan won’t work!” Robert stabbed an index finger into the paper Christina was holding in front of him.
Izak, my top debater, rushed over to make peace between the two, and stop Robert from bullying Chrissie (who happened to be Izak’s girlfriend). That problem taken care of, I walked away to check on other debaters working in the hallway. Ally was out there kneeling on the floor rifling through her big plastic tub of debate evidence. Apparently, she couldn’t find what she was looking for so she began dumping papers by the handful on the hallway floor. The janitor passed by with his wide-headed broom and just shook his head as if to say, “Don’t ask me to clean that mess up.”
Just then the take-out pizza arrived and everyone took a much-needed break, but I was too stressed to eat. I began picking up some of Ally’s scattered papers when I glanced up and saw my husband, Dale, standing just outside the glass exit doors of the school. It looked like he had a bag of hamburgers in his hand. I opened the door and told him I couldn’t stop yet, there was still work to do.
But he took one look at my disheveled appearance and grabbed my hand, pulling me outside with him. That’s when I got my object lesson on mindfulness.
After setting the bag of burgers down on the cement steps next to us, Dale took my shoulders and pivoted me to face him. He said, “Close your eyes.”
“What? I can’t close my eyes. I’ve got to get back inside!”
“Your students will be okay. Just close your eyes.” So I did. I decided to humor him, hoping we could get this little game of his over—quick.
“What do you hear?” he asked me. What do I hear? Debaters debating of course. But no. I was outside the school now. What I actually heard was a car engine down the street, and the wind blowing the tree branches above the sidewalk. So I told him this and opened my eyes.
“No. No! Keep your eyes close. What do you smell?” I took a moment. Someone had just cut the grass around the school and it was so pungent. I inhaled a big breath, and surprisingly, smelled a color: green.
When he asked me what I felt, I’d fully given myself over to the game by then, and told him I felt the coolness of the coming night. I could feel humidity against my skin.
Then Dale asked me to open my eyes. He surveyed my face and lightly tapped my chest, “Now. What do you feel there?”
That’s when I discovered mindfulness—awareness—and how it can take you away, take you out of the chaos of whatever situation you’re in, and into the moment.
“Better—I feel better,” I smiled back at him. After that we walked back into the high school and sat down, munching our hamburgers as my students finished up debate practice.