Photo credit: Justin Schwartz, Justcook NYC
This is the familiar tale of the physician who offers healing to others, but needs it most herself.
Many of you know that Mom, Erika and I host an annual blogger retreat called The Big Summer Potluck, Last weekend we welcomed nearly a hundred bloggers, sponsors and organizers to a gathering of inspiration, support, good food and new friendships. As one of the hosts, I work like crazy to make this event wonderful for all our participants. I want them to have time for rest, reflection and recreation. Me, not so much. I’m too busy making it happen for others. But this year, Big Summer Potluck happened in conjunction with some other major changes I have been making in my life. One of our keynote speakers, Brooke Burton (of Food Woolf), gave a talk called, “Mindfulness in the Digital Age.” She talked about being present and aware of who you are and what you’re doing. Taking a moment to breathe before you begin work. Savoring just one single bite of food. I found myself nodding ruefully. I was recalling a very mindless version of myself.
Nine months ago I was (to all outward appearance) doing great. On paper I had almost everything, but I was profoundly lost, more lost than I had ever been in my life. I used food and drink to numb my feelings. I distracted myself with vacations, plans with friends, little projects, and social media so that I didn’t have to deal with my career confusion. Then one morning I woke up and didn’t like my life. I was overweight, unhappy, and woefully confused about where I was headed. But I didn’t know what to do about it. After a visit from a friend who’d had a similar experience, I had my own epiphany. A bowl of mac n’ cheese didn’t make it better. Three glasses of wine didn’t make it better either. Nor did any of the distractions I had conveniently created for myself.
That’s when I realized, “Maggy, you’ve got to slow down, stop numbing, and face those things in your life that you don’t want to face.” For me it was a lot of things. For others it might be as great as a marriage crisis or an obsession with food, or as small as an endlessly postponed blog post or the giant pile of laundry you’ve been staring down all week. But sooner or later, you have to deal. If you don’t, your laundry pile takes over your second floor. You wake up one morning unwilling to look at yourself in the mirror. You look at your husband and think, “How did we get here?” The blog you spent years nurturing withers away because you stopped cooking, photographing, creating. Big or small, I’ve learned: we all have to deal.
Most of us, however, are really good at finding ways to not deal. We distract ourselves or numb the pain to banish the thoughts that keep us awake at night. Nine months ago, that’s where I was. But then I walked into the light. And once you’ve had even a moment in the glow of self-awareness and truth, you never want to be in the dark again.
What I have come to understand is that mindfulness, which seems so frivolous to us “very busy people,” leads to profound change. Once you start being mindful, your priorities fall into place, your goals become clear, nurturing and life-giving daily rituals begin to emerge. Everything that was completely out of whack is quietly recalibrated.
Brooke is so right. In this digital age it’s never been easier to distract ourselves. There are blogs to read, news and feeds to catch up on, television, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, CNN, ESPN, and the Real Housewives of New Jersey. There’s no end. Isn’t it easier to observe other people’s lives unfold on Facebook than to critically engage our own? One of the most useful exercises I ever did was to look at eighteen areas of my life, from body and relationships to spirituality and career and ask the question: “Where am I now?” and, “Where do I want to be?” Not long into the process, I began to see the gaping disparity between where I was and where I wanted to go. Then I had to do what felt impossible. I had to answer the question, “Why am I not there?”
If you’re anything like me, this is the moment when you have a thousand totally “legitimate” excuses for why you’re not where you want to be in life.
But then, as Brooke suggests, I took a moment to breathe, a moment to pause and reflect. And I stopped making excuses. I wrote it all down. For more than a week I created space every day to critically engage with my life. In these moments I was able to see the truth and create a path for myself. I’m writing this to tell you (as a former runner and numb-er) if you keep running and numbing, you can’t get there.
Each person’s journey is different, but start living more mindfully and see what happens. It’s the simplest, biggest thing you’ll ever do.