On Mindfulness: Doing what works, not forcing what doesn’t.

Charlestown Beach, RI

I get my best ideas and insights on walks. This is clearly a positive thing—it promotes exercise and insights at the same time! So why would I resist it, thwart it?

Because in my efforts at self-healing, a big part of which has been mindfulness practices, I got the idea that the “right” way to take walks is to turn them into mindfulness meditation sessions.

I’m not knocking meditation or suggesting it’s overrated. I’m much calmer, less reactive, and more present to all that is important, and better able to let go of what’s not, during times when I’m disciplined about starting the day with sitting meditation, even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Personal experience aside, there are mountains of scientific evidence demonstrating the many benefits of meditation.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with walking meditation, either. This can be a great practice, if and when it works for a person. What I am saying is, buying into the idea that that’s what I, personally, should be doing when I take walks—and more generally, that we should ALWAYS strive to be rooted in the exact present at all times—has not served me.

Besides buying into external ideas about the “right’ way to live, the mom multitasking habit has been part of the appeal of approaching walks as a mindfulness meditation. With two jobs and a family, it’s hard enough to find time for either exercise OR meditation, never mind both. Putting pressure on ourselves to make sure we’re doing all the things can take activities that are supposed to be nurturing and health promoting and turn them into just another item on the to-do list (and often one that doesn’t get done!). I guess I figured I could kill 2 birds with one stone and do both at the same time.

So I talked myself into focusing on the breath, the sensations of each step. But it didn’t make sense to me to turn inward like I was doing a sitting meditation when I was outside in the world. When that didn’t feel right, I focused on the sounds and seeing things I’ve never noticed before on the path I walk time and again. Staying in the moment by keeping my attention on the environment seemed the “right” way to do it. And it did make more sense.

But I still imposed the mindfulness meditation structure of noticing when the mind inevitably wandered and purposefully bringing it back to the present moment, and whatever sights and sounds were in the immediate experience. Whether or not what I found myself thinking about was actually worthwhile didn’t matter. It was to be redirected, reigned in.

What about the inherent value of daydreaming? Allowing the mind to wander? Is this really a thing to be avoided, or might there be a place for it? I’ve never read anything about this in books or articles specifically about mindfulness. (If you have, please share it in the comments!). As parents, most of us have heard by now that we need to protect our kids from over-scheduling and overstimulation so they have time and space even for boredom, and their minds and imaginations can wander and flourish. Why, then, should “aimless” thinking be a bad thing for adults?

I wish I could remember where I read this so I could credit the person, but recently I read something about the importance of having (or allowing) time and space for the mind to wander, and how for the author, that happens most naturally and easily when he’s walking. The author said daydreaming while walking is when the best problem-solving and creative ideas happen, because new ideas as well as different ways of thinking about the same things are more likely to arise spontaneously.

That’s how it is for me, too! I thought. And look, it’s more than OK. Maybe it’s especially good.  I knew it!

As we get older, we come to accept some things about ourselves. That’s a fine balance, because I want to keep learning and growing until my time on this beautiful and wounded planet is over. And yet, there’s comfort and self-respect in accepting that certain things can just be, and don’t need to change or evolve. (Or even, with some things, that it might be good if they changed, but they probably won’t. And that’s still OK.)

Letting the mind go wherever it’s going while walking—this I am no longer trying to change, which is liberating on many levels. It removes an item on the long list of things I feel internal pressure to “improve.”  And it frees me up to do what WORKS. What works, in this case, happens to be the same as what feels natural and automatic for me. That is most definitely not always true, and it feels like a gift. I’ll take it.

By the way, I already knew all this, about me and walking, but didn’t trust it until I read someone else say the same thing. This is not necessarily a bad thing—it illustrates the power of writing, and the value of reading many different perspectives. And yet, I often don’t trust what I know if it’s contrary to something I’ve at least partially bought into, until I have external confirmation from someone who says exactly what I’m feeling.

Especially with habits that take some discipline, like any kind of meditation, it’s easy to think that if a standard recommendation doesn’t gel with you, it’s just the typical resistance we feel when trying to adopt healthy habits. That can be true, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, you just know what works for you, and what doesn’t. Placing more trust in that is one thing I wouldn’t mind changing, as I try to find the sweet spot between healthy commitment to growth and being on a hamster wheel of perpetual self-improvement projects (a state of being which is at once self-critical and self-absorbed).

In between the wanderings and mental tangents, I still make a point to listen to the birds. And the kids playing in the park as I walk by. And I still make it a point to look around and notice things, like how the trees look a just a little different than the day before, in the spring and fall. Going through this process gave me that, which is good. I’ll keep it.

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2021

Conspiri-Speak, Translated.

A few years back, I wrote at some length about spiritual bypassing in new-age spirituality and alternative wellness communities. I had no idea back then that some folks in those communities would soon be promoting Trump as their divine savior from a truly outlandish world domination plot. It makes the garden variety bypassing I wrote about before seem almost quaint. As much as I thought I had my eyes wide open about the horrific possibilities of the Trump administration, never would I have dreamed that a subset of the “love and light” crowd would be cheering on an armed white supremacist mob insurrection against our nation’s Capitol.

If it wasn’t already, after January 6, it’s crystal clear what a danger conspiracy theories and their devotees present to public safety and our democracy. Will QAnon, the most outlandish and dangerous conspiracy theory, lose some steam now that inauguration day came and went and “The Storm” that was supposedly coming failed to materialize? Maybe, but some QAnon devotees are still holding on. Meanwhile, we have the adjacent conspiracy theory that COVID is ether a hoax, or at minimum is being used as a social control tool by opportunist evil forces. That one is likely to stay with us and prolong the pandemic at the untold cost of human life and suffering, as so many still eschew basic precautions. Some are willing to literally take their denial to their graves.

Conspiracy theorists use a lot of catchphrases that imply theirs are free-thinking ideologies. These soundbites are proving to be attractive to all sorts of folks who tend toward counter-culturalism and (often healthy) questioning of authority, e.g., alternative health enthusiasts, homeschoolers, and solo entrepreneurs, to name a few. There have been times in my life when their talking points might have been intriguing to me at first glance, appealing to my rebellious, march-to-a-different-drum nature. A closer look reveals that, outlandishness aside, contradictions and hypocrisy abound.  

For a disturbing yet fascinating deep-dive exploration into the place where conspiracy theorism, new-age spirituality, the alternative wellness industry, and far right extremism are all converging, check out the Conspirituality Podcast. Meanwhile, here’s my attempt to translate some of the common justifications and invitations to conspiracy theorism.

Talking point: “Be a critical thinker. Don’t accept the mainstream narrative.”  

Translation: “Automatically reject anything that could be described as ‘mainstream’ on that basis, regardless of logic or evidence. Knee-jerk adolescent rebellion is more fun than boring stuff like facts and discernment. And make sure to use the word ‘narrative’ as often as possible. That will prove all by itself that you’re a critical thinker!” 

Talking point: “Do your research. Think for yourself!” 

Translation: “Take these conspiracy theories which are fully formed by other people without evidence, and which you have found by ‘researching’ select discredited ‘news’ sources and message boards and swallow them whole. Latch on to these theories for dear life, and then regurgitate them verbatim to anyone who will listen. This will make you the freest of all thinkers.”

Variation: “I’ve done my research.”

Translation: “I stayed up all night going down every rabbit hole in the dark corners of the internet. I now understand more about this scientific or complex political topic than people with actual credentials who have studied it extensively as their life’s work. I’m that smart.” 

Talking point: “Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you just know. Trust your gut”

Translation: “Actually…all that stuff I said about ‘research?’ I mean, I do it, but it’s not really necessary, because I just kinda know things, you know? And when I am ‘doing my research,’ I don’t need to vet the source, because I can psychically determine whether it’s credible. Like, I can feel it. My truth is the truth. I’m that smart.” 

Talking point: “Whatever happened, it was Antifa.”

Translation: “Forget about what we said when we were bragging about doing it. Just kidding!”

Talking point: “It’s been proven. The information is everywhere.” 

Translation: “My ‘sources’ are iron-clad, automatically and without question. And, I have a built-in, convenient way to discredit any and all evidence that debunks my theory. There’s no need to ‘think critically’ about it. All I have to say is, ‘Of course they’re saying that, they’re from the ‘mainstream’ (fill in the blank). They’re all in on it, too!’ Done! So quick, easy and bulletproof!”

Talking point: “Look at all the Sheeple! They love being controlled!” 

Translation: “Unlike myself, who will faithfully follow my leader NO MATTER WHAT.”

Talking point: “Wake up! Open your eyes!” 

Translation: “Like, HOW can you be so blind and dumb? I mean, isn’t it SELF-EVIDENT that the biggest problem facing humanity right now is a Satan-worshiping, pedophilic, BLOOD DRINKING cabal of secret world dominators? I mean, how can you not see what is so bloody (so to speak) obvious, right in front of you? Instead, you insist on seeing the actual atrocities against children at the border. I mean, WTF? Get a grip.”

Talking point: “I am a free and sovereign being. I refuse to live in fear of a virus.”

Translation: “Instead, I choose to live in fear of the various boogeymen living in my conspiratorial fantasies.” 

copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama!

Election 2020. GET. HIM. OUT. (a playlist)

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Photo of Spotify playlist. Playlist link is at the end of this post.

Nothing says life in the Trump/McConnell era like going about your daily business in a simmering, nail-spitting rage, while also functioning more or less as if it’s a “normal” day. It’s quite the split. Quite the disconnect. (How will this alone, as a chronic state, fracture our souls? )

Is it at least as bad as we thought it would be, when we were tossing and turning in the wee hours of November 9 in 2016, waking up a hundred times from a half-sleep, knowing something was horribly wrong, then remembering what it was? Is it worse than we thought it could get?  I don’t think most of us imagined COVID. Except, of course, for the epidemiology experts who predicted it almost exactly, and briefed the Trump administration on the necessary preparations, as they cut the funding and programs to do so.

We were worried about RBG, but did we imagine the way they would do it— with her, 8 days before the election? That it would be so…poetic in its staggering hypocrisy and shameless evil?

We were very worried about the hell he promised to make for immigrants seeking asylum (fleeing from horrific conditions we helped create). But did we really imagine 500+ children kept in cages, their parents lost to them, them lost to their parents? Stolen, I mean. Not lost.

Continue reading

Thank you, Eddie Van Halen (and David Lee Roth).

In the 80’s, I was that girl in the jean jacket with the big VH logo patch on it. (Gen X’ers—you know, the one with the peroxide-bleached feathered mullet and the knee-high moccasin boots, smoking in the bathroom between classes.) I wish I knew whatever happened to that jacket! It went missing long ago, along with the spiral notebooks with the same logo etched into the covers by a teen fan’s ballpoint pen.

That feels like several lifetimes ago, and I haven’t really listened to Van Halen’s music in decades. When I heard the news of Eddie Van Halen’s death last week, I was of course saddened and mostly I felt for his son, whose heartbreak was palpable in his short announcement.

In the week and a half that has followed, more has come up for me personally than I ever would have expected. No doubt like many people who came of age during Van Halen’s heyday, revisiting and celebrating EVH’s music has meant revisiting those years in the visceral way that only music triggers. In perfect timing, last week there was a meme going around that says something like, “If visual art decorates space, music decorates time.” This has never felt more true.

How many fans have long love stories like this? I want to read them ALL. Here’s hoping mine finds a few die-hards who truly understand, and it makes them smile.

The “1984” album dropped during my 13th year. I had some vague knowledge of Van Halen before that— Continue reading

21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 3: #StayingAtHome, Sitting with Paradox (and catching babies!)

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Part 1 of this series can be found here. Part 2 is here.

The Weekend: March 14 and 15

Saturday morning, a friend suggested we meet up at a basketball court so the kids could play. I’m thinking, that’s OK, right? It’s just my younger son and one other kid. My husband Gurpreet says he thinks we should shy away from that, especially with contact sports, and in general we should keep everyone at home. Yet again, I’m thinking this is nuts, we’ve gone from no crowds to no school to no small gatherings to no get-togethers with even ONE kid? But he was spot-on about not going to India. That gave me pause, along with having just experienced an entire week of safety thresholds changing by the day.

Moments later, I got a message from another mom on a group text. Her son was already asking to have the usual small group of boys over—what did we think? I replied that our “family policy” was evolving in that moment. Continue reading

21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 2: “Really? That seems crazy” to “Yes, obviously,” within days. (Over and over.)

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Part 1 of this series is here

Saturday, March 7

This day was not quite three weeks ago, and it feels like forever. We were supposed to have arrived in India to spend three weeks with our family, but woke up at home in the U.S. after canceling at the last minute. Instead, we went to my older son’s basketball playoff game (they won!). My younger one had practice that night. We were grateful the kids could focus on being in the playoffs after all, to soften the blow of not being with their family in India. At that point, no one was questioning going to small sporting events or gathering kids and families outside of schools.

Moday, March 9

Governor Raimondo declared a State of Emergency. My kids went to school—there was no formal talk of school closures yet. Articles were coming out about New York, saying closing schools there would be a last resort because of all the children who would not eat if they were not at school. This and many other stories began to reveal what this pandemic tells us about ourselves—much of which activists have been screaming into the wind to no avail.

We were starting to see the ramifications for our pregnant patients. Visitor restrictions were applied—one support person only for labor and birth. We were successful in advocating for doulas to be recognized as part of the care team and not subject to visitor restrictions. But of course not everyone can afford a doula (hopefully this will change—see below!), nor is that the preferred support situation for every woman. We had our first patient sobbing and devastated at being forced to choose between having her partner or her mother at her birth.

At that time, most of the concerns we heard were related to the visitor restrictions. In the coming weeks, more and more of our prenatal visits would be dedicated to supporting women not just through crushing disappointments, but also through fears and very real grief over the burdens this pandemic has placed on their pregnancies. Continue reading

21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 1, India: to go or not to go?

Saturday, February 29

We were all set to fly out in six days for a three-week trip to visit family in India. My husband says, maybe we should cancel the trip. Me—really??  I had been among those asking, early on, “Is this really that different from the flu?” I was beginning to realize it was more, but still–India was nowhere on CDC’s radar. He says, look into it, I’ve been reading and I’m worried this virus thing is going to blow up. I called the airline to check it out. We could change our tickets, but it would be cost-prohibitive—no advantage over abandoning our current reservation and having to pay full price for a new one later. We decided to wait it out and make a final decision as late as the night before.

Over the following days, the news reports ramped up and people were talking more about international travel restrictions, but there were no new countries added to the handful on the CDC’s no-no list. We talked about worst-case scenarios, which seemed to be a) we get stuck there and b) self-quarantine for a couple of weeks on return, if India got added to the warning list while we were gone. The former seemed highly unlikely (ha!), the latter more of a concern, but not the end of the world. We asked several trusted friends, some of them health care providers, what they would do. All agreed canceling seemed like overkill.

We decided we would go if it was still OK per CDC guidelines as of our departure time. A friend texted me, “Please send me a selfie of your expression following the 100th coronavirus joke/comment about your travel plans,” but really, no one was batting an eye. At that time, only some business travel was getting canceled—most people were carrying on with their personal trips.

Thursday, March 5

While packing at 10am, I was on the phone with a friend and my husband beeped in for the third time in 10 minutes, so I tell her I don’t know what he wants, but I better answer this. Continue reading

“They Grow Up So Fast.” On memory, and remembering, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

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My boys, when they were four (the Hubble Space Telescope phase) and one.

“They grow up way too fast.” It’s so cliché, you’re probably rolling your eyes as you read it. We all know it, and yet when we’re in it, in the day-to-day of parenting, we forget. So even if we have a knee-jerk “yeah, yeah, I know” reaction to the cliché, how do we actually remember this thing we all know? As our children grow up at dizzying speed, faster with each passing year, is there any way to counterbalance the feeling that it’s getting away from us, without holding on to them—or the past—too tightly?

Most mothers of small children have had some version of the following experience: you’re in a public place and your toddler is melting down while the baby is screaming (or substitute some other flavor of wildness and chaos that comes with parenting small children).  An older mother, or a mother of children older than yours, gives you that knowing smile and says, “They grow so fast—hang in there, savor every moment!”

Some people (like this mom) hate this. They find it patronizing and invalidating and I get that, which why I resist the urge to say it myself—especially to people who are clearly struggling—now that my kids are getting older. It never bothered me, though, and in fact, I always appreciated the reminder. Because it’s so easy to forget, isn’t it, when things are hard? Or even when things are fine and routine but we’re on autopilot, caught up in the busy-ness and tasky-ness of life.

So, whether or not we want to hear it from others, how do we remind ourselves how soon these days, months, years, will be gone? Continue reading

Voices

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Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

The following is a guest post by my husband, Gurpreet Singh. He wrote this poem leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, for victims of gun violence and hate crimes. 

 

Voices

by Gurpreet Singh

 

Daddy, this morning 26 of us played and now we are none.

Motek, I too will miss our Shabbat dinners.

My Sardarni, I miss our quiet Sunday morning rush to get to the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

Mama, thank you for making a space where boys like me may be a little safer to play and to make art and music. I miss you.

I am so very glad you couldn’t make it to Pulse tonight. Love you.

Darlin’, sorry we could not have dinner together after Bible study.

Rana Sodhi, my brother, I am happy you forgave and found some peace.

Get yourselves a good football coach, Marjory Stoneman, you are going to shine.

Many came and many spoke, a lot more cried and no laws changed.

PLEASE VOTE

 

© Gurpreet Singh and Wake Up, Mama! All rights reserved. 

 

Spiritual White People: Do we really want to help heal humanity? Or are we full of sh*t?

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Photo by Stephen Sandian on Unsplash

Spiritual white people: do we really want to help heal humanity? If we do, it’s past time to take a long, hard look at the ways we use spiritual beliefs to harm rather than heal.

Spiritual bypassing continues to show up in white-dominated spiritual/personal growth communities and wreak insidious havoc. Sometimes it’s empresses who turn out to be naked, like Danielle LaPorte or Marianne Williamson. Sometimes it’s emperors, like Tony Robbins. At least weekly, a lesser known spiritual entrepreneur—who may not be a household name but still might have followers in the thousands—uses their social media platform to push platitudes that deny and minimize oppression and legitimate suffering. This encourages their followers to follow suit. Just when I think I’ve said all I have to say on this subject, fresh inspiration is always right around the corner.

I’m talking to and about white people living in relative privilege who hold spirituality (not necessarily religion) as part of our identities and value systems. When I say “spiritual white people living in relative privilege,” I’m speaking about us as a collective, not as every single individual. So let’s practice observing our knee-jerk tendency to start concocting #notall type rebuttals, and then let that go, ok? On second thought, I do mean every individual, because we’ve all been complicit in some aspects, to some degree.

The following is a short list of beliefs and behaviors people in white-dominated spirituality/personal growth circles—including way too many “thought leaders” and spiritual business gurus—are very busy selling, buying and feeding each other. Continue reading