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

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

“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

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

Spiritual Bypassing and White Fragility, By the Playbook

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Photo by Valentina Aleksandrovna on Unsplash

At the end of this essay are some links to pertinent articles, videos and books, mostly by women of color whose perspectives on this matter most. Also, on a time-sensitive note: on May 17, there is a free webinar for white women who want to do the internal work necessary to be part of the solution on these issues. More info and sign-up link here.

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Last week, Danielle LaPorte, one of the biggest names in women’s spirituality/personal growth entrepreneurship, launched a program with some marketing images that were racially problematic at best. When she posted her promotion of the program on her business’s Facebook page, numerous women of color (WOC) and white women in her target audience, many of whom had followed her and bought her products and programs for years, were upset and concerned. They let her know this with thoughtfully written, heartfelt (and yes, in some cases, angry!) explanations of why the marketing campaign was racist, and gave a wealth of educational links and suggestions for repair.

The original insult was compounded by her response to the feedback. She removed the images from online marketing materials and acknowledged the problem with her marketing campaign, but simultaneously implied the real harm was being done by the people giving the feedback rather than by her actions. Continue reading

Getting Unhooked: What Happened When I Took a Break from Facebook

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Photo by William Iven on Unsplash. Image description: smartphone showing Facebook log-in screen next to the words “social media” spelled out with Scrabble letters.

Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship. I’ve reconnected with people I never would have without social media, which has been (mostly) a blessing, and made new friends. I’ve seen some ideas that have changed how I operate in my daily life, like bullet journaling, and found some great parenting advice, insight and camaraderie. In the last couple of years, political and social justice actions have been facilitated or even made possible by Facebook. I’ve participated in some important and enlightening discussions (along with the many futile and exhausting ones). I’ve been educated, enraged, amazed and moved (both to tears and to action) by countless articles, blog posts, long form Facebook posts, and discussions I likely would not have seen otherwise. And this platform has allowed me to share my own writing. Lots to love.

AND. Facebook trips the wiring of my addictive tendency, which is always looking for a way to get reactivated, the minute I leave it unsupervised. Continue reading

Fear of February: How my winter depression shifted

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I really have no business living in New England.

I was born in New Orleans in August, in the middle of the afternoon. I could check what the temperature was that day, if that info is even available, but whatever. It was hot. We moved when I was just over a year old, and I spent a few years of my early childhood in Rhode Island. I can access a few hard details and events that stand out in stark relief, but most of my memories from that time are only sketches, shadows, colors, feelings. Vague images of snow angels are among those.

Before kindergarten, when my parents divorced, we (my mother, baby brother and me) moved back down south, initially to Mississippi where my grandparents lived. My mother remarried shortly thereafter and I was back in Louisiana—Baton Rouge this time (much less interesting than New Orleans, just as hot). For a couple of years at age 10 and 11, we had a stint in Indiana where I enjoyed the snow and don’t remember hating the cold, after which we were back in Baton Rouge.

Then, at age 13, my fighting spirit collided with family issues and catapulted me back to Rhode Island alone, this time without my mother and brother, where I arrived to live with my father, stepmother, stepsiblings and new baby sister—a process which was set in motion in February of that year. Continue reading

When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting

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Photo credit: StockSnap. Description: Woman with eyes closed and shadow across face.

I want to talk about something I witnessed last week in the online world.

First, a little background. A couple of years ago, I became increasingly aware of a pervasive phenomenon in the (overwhelmingly white) women’s spirituality/ personal growth circles I move in. I noticed persistent attempts to deny and disown painful realities by insistence (overt or implied) that we create our struggles with our negative thinking or energy or low vibration or fill-in-the-blank. I do believe the way we frame things in our thinking can be important to our well being and success, up to a point. I do believe we have some authentic choice around where we place our focus, and those choices can impact our well being and success, up to a point. However, I found the blanket application and oversimplification of these ideas to be profoundly negating of people’s life experience. It also borders on blaming people for certain external realities truly beyond their control.

I wrote a blog post at that time called “Anger and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive” in a stumbling attempt to speak to this thing I couldn’t name. I didn’t know then that I didn’t have to name it because it already had a name—Spiritual Bypassing—and there’s a whole book about it. I found this out when a dear friend put her copy of the book in my hands and said, “Will you please read this already? It’s what you’ve been bitching about for a year.”

Here’s the quick definition: Continue reading

Notes from a Radical Self-Care Weekend

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This past weekend, I was blessed to spend three nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire mountains with one of my closest friends. There is so much to love about this place. The view of the mountains and lake. Dancing to live drums on Saturday (my very favorite thing). Yoga and more yoga. Time for hiking in the woods, sitting at the lake, journaling, and reading. The fourth floor sunroom, the labyrinth. The little things, like filling my water bottle with the herbal iced teas that are available 24/7 and the blankets in the bin on the big front patio, in case you forgot to grab your sweater or want to spread out on the lawn. Oh, and the beautiful, amazing food.

It’s a big place that draws 40,000 people per year. At this point, after half a dozen trips, I feel very much at home there, and at the same time, completely anonymous. It’s a strange yet comforting combination. Continue reading