Learning Mindfulness from Two Months of Sick Leave

I’ve gotta tell you–these last two months at home with just the cats, my laptop, and my migrainous vertigo have offered some advantages. Like I’ve missed a good chunk of cold and flu season. Like I get to sleep in. Like full-time grad school is a breeze when classes are online and I only work five hours a week.

In a few ways, it’s been great.

But the best thing?

It started out as the worst thing: a lot of time with myself. Like too much. Like, wow, I didn’t know how well I could know my own mind. Or the pattern of plaster on the living room walls.

Granted, a two-month migraine isn’t conducive to mindfulness. Hell, it’s not like I had much of a mind to work with.

But when I did glimpse consciousness, I stared it hard in the face. Real hard. Nothing better to do.

And I had an epiphany. I started to wonder if mental and emotional well-being is nothing more than recognizing our impulses and knowing when and how to do the opposite.

See, a lot of the time when I wanted to curl up in a ball on the rug and pretend I hadn’t seen a text or phone call or message, I needed to do the exact opposite. When I wanted to pretend I wasn’t having a migraine so I could go for a jog, I needed to crawl into bed.

Psychologists say we learn this sort of self-care from our mothers. Do we? I wouldn’t know. My mother had all the symptoms of autism and didn’t notice me, except to point out how incompetent and treacherous I was before I even hit kindergarten. So really, I wouldn’t know.

But even if some of us were lucky enough to have healthy behaviors modeled by our mothers, my bet is even those folks forget sometimes. We’re all so busy all the time. How many of us actually stop to name what we’re feeling and then to assess its validity? Most of the time most of us just do. Because we’re on autopilot.

But I’ve been off autopilot for two months now. And that part really has been great. Because when we notice what we’re really feeling and then consciously decide whether to act from that place, life opens up. Instead of autopilot, we have choices. Instead of vague moods, we all have a rich emotional life that draws on our history, our relationships, and our health–as well as our current experience.

And understanding that means even in a mere 500 square feet, sixty days offer endless possibilities. We each can choose our response to every impulse, every sensation of pain, every experience in every moment. Take that potential out into the world, and anything becomes possible.

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