Like many people these days, I scan the highlights of several newspapers each morning and drill down into articles that interest me. A couple of days ago, one article caught my eye; it was all about being mindful while we brush our teeth. I thought that was odd, because mindfulness to me seems more like a long-term state of consciousness rather than a habit to develop in order to relax during quick activities. But the advice seemed sound, so I gave it a try.
Well, it worked, and as predicted, I now “feel gratitude for my teeth and all that they allow me to do – chewing, smiling, and speaking.” Thank you for your suggestion, Dr. Fern White!
To be honest, mindfulness has been of great interest to me since I retired from my career five years ago. I left the helter-skelter working world of running from meeting to chore and back to meeting again, all the time making instant decisions and giving on-the-spot answers. I suspect that some of those snappy responses might not be the same if I’d had the luxury of time to thoughtfully and seriously consider my answers.
Being completely aware of my thoughts and feelings was something important that was missing during those busy years, so spending time learning about awareness became one of my first interests after leaving the work world. I learned that many of the benefits of mindfulness were identical to some of my objectives as a retiree, such as improving my health, losing weight, and increasing my memory, not to mention spending more quality time with my family and being more “present” when we are together.
Here I am, five years into my retirement, and I weigh less and am in better physical shape than I’ve been in 25 years, enthusiastic about my circuit class rather than finding excuses not to attend, and eager to add steps to my daily Fitbit total. I’ve become more efficient and creative, and above all, I have become a better listener. My new part-time career as a fundraiser is rewarding and allows me to be more deliberate and considerate with my tasks. And my extra time off gives me the opportunity to stop and consider my surroundings and appreciate this astonishingly beautiful area that has been my home for most of my life.
If you’re feeling harried or overwhelmed, my advice is to take some time from your busy routine to find out about the benefits of mindfulness, which is being studied and written about in-depth by many today. Start a new morning routine that opens your awareness to the day rather than plunging you into frenetic activity from the moment you awake.
For a quick test, just try (as I did) mindfully brushing your teeth each morning. Apply toothpaste, breathe slowly and deliberately as you brush, relax your neck and jaw, loosen your grip and feel the bristles moving, taste the toothpaste, and feel gratitude for your teeth. Hopefully you’ll have the same relaxing and calming experience I had.
Other peaceful morning ideas: Choose a soothing gentle alarm with which to awaken. Start the morning gently. Drink water before coffee or tea since your body needs to hydrate after sleep. And delay the technology! Don’t pick up your phone to check overnight messages and don’t turn on the television. Instead, walk outside, look at the morning sky and appreciate the beauty of the coming day. Then move into your day trying to be as present and attentive as possible to your surroundings and activities.
We all complain about time passing far too quickly with each birthday. I’ve found that the more mindful I have become of my surroundings and activities, the less I feel my life is one whirlwind day after another. I can enjoy myself more and reflect on how pleasant it is to go through each day and enjoy the sights, sounds, touch, tastes and smells it brings.
Rose Carlson, retired VP/GM Bright House Networks, is director of endowment for Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.