I don’t think it’s a surprise to many people who know me, that I’ve been suffering with depression and anxiety for a while. I’ve done the group therapies, I’ve done the drugs, I’ve done the CBT. Some of it has been more effective than others. One thing that’s talked about a lot in modern therapy is Mindfulness. I was sceptical at first as well, don’t worry. Unfortunately, much like everything these days, the useful information about this concept is often drowned out by the loons and chancers of the world, saturating the airwaves with clean-living bullshit, and exploitation-for-profit schemes. Often one and the same thing.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it difficult to relax and to switch off. At any given point, my haywire brain is flying off on a thousand tangents, trying to solve problems and undermine myself-esteem. Anything from compiling lists of shit-I-haven’t-got-done-yet, ways to fix ongoing incidents at work, beating myself up because I’m putting on weight while I’m still not able to exercise fully after the knee op, why Barry Allen made yet another stupid decision in The Flash. You name it, it’s going on in there. I don’t do downtime. I really struggle. For me, downtime is just something to fill until the next planned event.
And herein lies one of my big problems with the concept of ‘mindfulness’. I found during my therapy sessions, that actually, when it’s enforced on me, and I deliberately sit and take the time to just stop for ten minutes an pay attention to just me, it works. The anxiety subsides, the low mood lifts, I start to relax. In actual real life though, it just doesn’t either ever occur to me, or I start throwing obstacles in the way.
So, as a born problem-solver, I did my best to turn this powerful tool into something I could use. The big problem for me was — much like my time at school — a struggle to parse bits of abstract instruction and apply it to real life situations. The ultimate result of this was, after my therapy had finished, it joined the ever expanding list of shit-I-haven’t-got-done-yet.
It occurred to me yesterday, when I was singing along to Hole’s Celebrity Skin and slicing mint leaves into a glorious chiffonade, that actually I’ve already tacitly worked it out.
Here, you have a go:
You see, my retreat has and always will be cooking. When I get home from work after a long and stressful day — though these days in fairness, the stress levels have dropped off exponentially — I unwind and relax by slicing up vegetables, searing meats, and eating great food. I’ll whack on some tunes, or a bit of BBC 6 Music — Steve Lamacq and Marc Riley are my constant kitchen companions — and lose myself in flavours.
Without realising it, I am practising ‘mindfulness’, there’s nothing going through my mind except how to make things tastier, what order to prepare things, how long things need to cook, pounding bass, and tickling treble. I’m not thinking about politics, IIS configuration, mowing the lawn, cashflow. It’s my safe place. It’s where I go to relax. Just me, sharp objects, ingredients, and bangin’ choons.
Of course, it always helps that Claire is always so appreciative. It gives me a great self esteem boost when she compliments me on today’s tasty morsels. On a side note, it also encourages me to prepare and eat better food instead of falling into the old trap of ‘easy meals’. We very rarely throw in a bag of oven chips, or use a supermarket prepared pasta sauce.
Now, I’m well aware that this isn’t a thing for everyone. Some people find cooking extremely stressful, and I can understand that. It takes a lot of juggling of things, judging when things are ready, checking tastes, working out how to recover from cock-ups. Some people just don’t get on with that and that’s cool. I personally find things stressful that other folk find relaxing, such as gardening, or cleaning. The point is that there’s probably something out there for everyone. Something so routine, you don’t need to think to hard about it. Something just creative enough that it can eclipse all those peripheral thoughts, nagging for your attention. Something you can do that just makes you happy.
Mindfulness doesn’t need to be a conscious thing, in fact, making time for mindfulness is almost an oxymoron. The problem with seeing it as an activity which needs to be performed, instantly adds it to the shit-I-haven’t-got-done-yet list and it becomes a burden. You start to think about it, subconsciously and the act of not finding time for ‘mindfulness’ as an activity makes it its own source of anxiety, which if you think about it, is ridiculous.
And thus, rather than carve out another half an hour from my life to sit and listen to the birds, I can actually just relax into what I love the most, food and music.