On Mindfulness

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.

32 Comments

  1. Brooke says

    If it were not for the these tears, I might be able to see the keyboard… Beautiful words. So honest. SO real. Thank you for your kindness and courage. You inspire me!
    B

  2. says

    This is a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing, Maggy! And thanks for all your hard work this weekend ! You, your Mom and Erika are so awesome to put BSP3 together. Inspite of being so busy attending to our needs, I’m glad you found some “me-time” for yourself. Hugs & thanks!

  3. says

    Thank you for sharing. This is such an honest and real post. You set such a great example and you are a true inspiration for the rest of us as we try to find our way. It takes a lot of courage and determination to pause and face/deal with whatever it is we are running from.
    Thank you, your Mom, and Erika for creating such a memorable weekend for so many of us.

  4. TommyG says

    Mags, I read your post with deep interest. This was quite well written and truly reflective. Thanks for sharing!
    TG

  5. says

    Beautifully put, Maggy. I’ve been struggling with my own post-BSP post, for many of the reasons you describe. Too many distractions, an unwillingness to really focus & pay attention, etc. Today is the day. I’m writing it. Well, after I finish the *other* writing assignment that’s due today…

  6. says

    Im in the same boat as well. I can’t stop thinking about how unhappy I am in my job (which is non food related). It’s hard to face, especially change, but I, too, have been numbing myself. Let’s go unnumb ourselves together, okay?

  7. says

    This was a beautiful post, Maggy. I so enjoyed meeting and talking to you last weekend, and you did a wonderful job with the event. I have only good memories from the weekend and hope to have more next year.

  8. says

    Thanks for being so honest and share your story. Brooke’s words really hit home for me too. It is easy to busy yourself so you don’t have to deal with the real issues in life. Thank you for opening your heart and your home to the community and created BSP. It will always have a special place in my heart. xoxo

  9. says

    Thanks so much for sharing this Maggy. So may spot on truths here that most of us can relate to. I myself am at a professional crossroad and your right, I can’t just “think about it later” or distract myself like I may be doing. Thanks for the reminder. And thanks again for another much needed, fantastic Potluck gathering :)

  10. says

    You are so right, darling! We need to spend more time being in the moment and focusing on the things we have around us.

    On a separate note, you threw an amazing event and every came out of it different than they went in.

    Mwah!

  11. says

    I have slowly been coming out of a numbing phase over the past year and agree that we need to take the time to engage our own life..
    Such a great post, my friend. I’m sad we were on vacation during your event (well I loved my vacation, but sad I had to miss BPL). Much love to you!

  12. Caroline says

    A courageous and loving post. And the ripple effect of your honesty will go far, farther than you will know. I know I will be sharing this with many I love. Thank you, Maggy.

  13. says

    What a gorgeous piece, Mags. Just gorgeous. I can feel the * mindfulness* & contentment of where you are right now ooze through your post.

    I have recently wrapped my arms around this epiphany as well. It does feel magnificent to be in the light, doesn’t it. Let’s remind each other to live mindfully.

    Miss you beautiful girl. Glad BSP3 was another success. Thank you again for your enormous heart and radiant soul. xoxo

  14. Katie says

    This is such a fantastic post and something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

    I’m interested in the 18 life areas you reviewed, if you’d be willing to share the list. It sounds like an exercise I could use.

  15. Nancy says

    You just whet my appetite, Maggie. I wish you could share more, and point us in more directions. This reminds me a bit of your mom’s thought provoking first chapters in her book, “Perfect Recipes for Losing Weight.” these are hard paths of reflection and self discovery and most of us can relate to them. You were very vulnerable to share this with us. I sent this to a friend at church and I’m thinking what a great retreat topic this would make. Thank you.

  16. says

    Maggy,
    Thank you for your honest and beautiful words. Though I didn’t know you before you embraced this new awareness, I am so grateful to have you in my life now. Your spirit is so generous and infectious! I feel such gratitude for Brooke’s words as well. Loved BSP and love you.
    Sabrina

  17. sally johnson says

    Good for you for being aware! You might want to read “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat hanh.

  18. Kathy says

    A truly inspiring post…thanks for sharing! It’s wonderful that you’ve reached this level of awareness so early in your life! As you continue your journey, I pray that you have time to look at Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go Of Who You Think You Should Be and Embrace Who You Are. A great preview can be seen on the TED site where she has been a much loved lecturer. Peace to you.

  19. May says

    Thanks so much for this post. I’ve been going through some big life changes like leaving work f/t to go to school f/t and i’ve discovered mindfulness through my school counsellor. I’m only beginning to practice it but it’s been such a dramatic change. I listen to the 10-minute recording and i feel so much more relaxed afterwards. I’m looking forward to group sessions for myself starting next week. Totally reccommend you download the recordings into your iPod whenever you need a break. http://students.sfu.ca/health/media.html

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