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Mindfulness Practice

 

A few weeks ago, when I ran out of monthly views on my Kanopy and Hoopla accounts (free streaming programs through my local library), I noticed that the Kanopy account allowed unlimited views of the Great Courses programs, beyond my five-views-a-month limit. I needed something to watch while I pushed through my daily thirty to forty-five minutes on the semi-recumbent bike, so I tried to watch a program about Diet and Nutrition, and then something else about Mystery Writing, and a third thing about Art Appreciation. I almost gave up at that point, because I was bored out of my mind, but then I saw that there was a course on Mindfulness. Mindfulness had been described to me as a Western form of meditation (A.K.A less difficult), and a way to help me feel more present in my body, and since one of my forever issues has been a feeling of separateness from my body, I thought I’d give it a try.

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“How could you be separate from your body, Mommy. That’s weird.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m on the ceiling watching my life from above, or I’m hiding in a tiny corner of my body, hunkered down. It’s one in a long line of dissociative trauma responses that I tend to take for granted. It’s a way of saying, so what, my body was attacked, but the real me is fine. But dissociation from the body can become habitual, because the body continues to hold the feelings and memories I’m trying so hard to avoid, and that feeling of separateness can become overwhelming.

I had just started a (very) small yoga practice again, one that carefully avoids over flexibility (because I have Ehlers Danlos – a connective tissue disorder – and can injure myself easily). I could only hold each pose for thirty seconds (at most), but I noticed that this short practice was helping me tolerate being present in my body for short periods of time, especially if I didn’t try to do all of the poses in a row. I thought the mindfulness exercises might be able to help me tolerate the Yoga poses a little bit longer, because I knew I wasn’t up to sitting still for traditional meditation for long periods of time. So I decided to start watching the Mindfulness program. I still felt tense and grumpy, though, and expected to bail out of the course at any moment and just surf YouTube for cartoons in Hebrew, or songs to teach my students.

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“You couldn’t find a video about dogs?”

I do my physical therapy exercises while I’m on the exercise bike, to stretch and strengthen my neck and shoulders, so I was able to focus half of my attention on my physical therapy exercises and only half on what the lady on the screen was saying. Blah blah blah mindfulness, blah blah blah, breathing. I don’t know what finally caught my attention and allowed me to keep watching, even after my physical therapy and breathing exercises were done and there was nothing else to distract me. Maybe it was the way she acknowledged that mindfulness doesn’t solve everything. Or that it’s hard to do and we are all imperfect. Maybe something she said made me remember how I’d felt standing in Mountain Pose for thirty seconds that morning, both antsy that I wasn’t accomplishing anything, and also sort of relieved to be able to stand and balance on my own two feet and not feel like I was about to fall over.

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“Eight feet make it much easier to balance.”

Not every episode of the Mindfulness course was great. I got annoyed when some of the instructors repeated old mantras like, “Always return to the present moment,” or “focus on the now,” as if there’s no legitimacy to focusing on the past, or planning for the future. And that’s nonsense. There’s so much to learn from the past – in fact, the past is where all of the information is. And there’s great value in planning for the future and having a clear idea of what you want and how you hope to behave, because then you can practice and prepare and not just react to what comes at you. And, really, sometimes the present moment just sucks, and there’s no shame in escaping from it in order to focus on something happier, or more productive.

But other instructors were better. And even if I didn’t exactly look forward to my daily half-hour or forty-five minutes with the mindfulness experts, I stuck with it (counting down the days to the end of the month when I would get to start over with five videos on Kanopy and five on Hoopla and not be stuck watching educational crap while I did my daily stint on the exercise bike). Learning how to be kind to myself is freaking hard, and even someone gently offering me the option of spending time with myself, without judging myself, can be healing in itself, but still hard to do.

When the new month started, of course, I went looking for less educational, more fun, shows to watch while I did my daily bike ride, but I found myself wandering back to the unfinished Mindfulness course, watching ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there. I still get tense and grumpy sometimes when I watch an episode, and my yoga practice is still very short, but maybe just the fact that I can stand in Mountain Pose and tolerate a few minutes of feeling present in my body, is a good step forward. And maybe, for now, that’s enough.

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“Probably not.”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

63 responses »

  1. Where would we be these days without streaming services? I can’t imagine life now without such services.

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  2. A great resource. Thank you.

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  3. Mindfulness is well explained as mediation at an easier level. I practice both daily. It helps me to remember to care about me. Not something I historically ever did. Great blog.

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  4. One of my dearest friends has ED, and another friend – someone I met through a Golden Retriever group – also has it. Have you ever tried being around horses? Apparently it’s great for people with ED – my friend has gone from barely walking to riding trails. Also, you are amazingly strong, my friend. (My version of caring for myself involves multiple chocolate covered tart cherries this week, by the way)

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  5. “Sometimes I feel like I’m on the ceiling watching my life from above, or I’m hiding in a tiny corner of my body, hunkered down. It’s one in a long line of dissociative trauma responses that I tend to take for granted. It’s a way of saying, so what, my body was attacked, but the real me is fine.” ~ I totally get that.

    “There’s so much to learn from the past – in fact, the past is where all of the information is.” ~ Brilliantly said.

    I enjoy your posts, Rachel. And your sweet fur baby pictures.

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  6. Hi Rachel, I’ve just ordered your novel, Yeshiva Girl on Book Depository. Looking forward to read it. ヾ(^∇^)

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  7. Glad the Mindfulness series has served some purpose.

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  8. I’ve never thought that my out-of-body experiences (watching myself from behind my body) could be considered a dissociative disorder. I almost always do that when recalling memories and also during my dreams. Like you, I also have difficulty in staying still and in the moment. Thank you for giving me much to think about and for yet another great post!

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  9. I subscribe to Netflix and Amazon but hardly ever watch them. I seem to spend most of my spare time blogging! It might be time to rethink those subscriptions. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  10. Your dogs are so cute! I used to meditate when I had a great yoga instructor who worked with her class to do really good meditation. It is harder by yourself and I have lapsed. I did enjoy it and have tried some programs but nothing seems to click. I get how you feel.

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  11. I’ve been thinking of finding a yoga for seniors class. It sounds like you are working hard on your health!

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  12. Dear Rachel, I have a suggestion for what it’s worth coming from a huge dog lover and fan, of the dogs that is; I don’t know you well enough yet to say the other. OK my attempt at being a tiny bit funny is history now. I agree with you that the past must be dealt with and properly putting it perspective and getting a handle on it so you control it and not the other way around. Easier said than done, right I know we all have pasts and stuff that we wish we didn’t but first I see the past as a great teaching or learning reservoir to be aware of the things that did us good or did us harm and how they happened so that we might replicate the good things and avoid the nasty’s. You talk about meditation and to me I don’t find that a proper term for how I differentiate by experiences and timeline of life. I do things more spontaneously as in when I’m doing something in the here and now and something in my past pops up I either take a look at that immediately or make a note of that for later when I can really sink my teeth into it or start my analyzing or what some people might call over thinking process to trash out any new insights or perspective that is valuable to me to add to my collective present state of wellbeing. Some of this may seem old hat or not good enough to consider any ground breaking revelation but my key point to this is two other factors to have working in unison while exploring this train of thought. First I sincerely ask God to help me figure out what I need to and help me overcome my obstacles if it is His will which I consider most important as I’m really nothing without God. I know an oxymoron for sure but I mean it in a sense how I would rather make use of my life past present and future as an instrument of God’s serving His purposes and plan. (I inserted here, wasn’t going to mention this but then said of course why not), I’m born and raised as a Catholic and was born in a Jewish Hospital and delivered by a Jewish doctor; as well and most important I’ve always met some extremely kind and even great Jewish people whom I got along with wonderfully; a couple of them even, “saved my life” in adulthood. But, now back to the fun part of this cure-all is this other piece which is I know how you love dogs like I do so pet therapy is a real substantive methodology; I know because I was near to death after an industrial injury and a beautiful soul of a dog that I had at the time which I will still cry about if I dwell on the fact that he isn’t here with me physically anymore but in my heart he remains forever; I carry guilt that I know is wrong still thinking I should have done better to make sure he didn’t die and hindsight is 20/20. I had no idea things would go the way they did and an 11 year old strong dog would suffer and die like he did in my charge. I mention all this because when I was physically damaged and suffering he was totally attentive to me coming to lie down next to me and licking my neck and chest which was my biggest area of injury and illness. But in those close bonds and connecting sessions I had with my little buddy I was so able to look way back and even the present from a solid footing at the good, the bad and the ugly and put it all in perspective feeling so much better and confident that my life is good in spite of how messed up I was at the time, I was able to override it all with the sheer joy in my heart that my little four legged friend instilled in me, and how I was feeling so much more alive and appreciative of all I had by sitting or lying next to him petting and showing affection to him as he was also to me; I dare say he was even trying to fix me and I felt that, he was so good and would take it all away if he could have so that was enough for me to say, OMG, Thank You God for giving me this beautiful dog companion and everything else even the bad because I don’t think I would have appreciated this abundance all around me if this bad hadn’t happened and brought my little buddy to my rescue connecting to me the way he did! So many blessings in disguise my friend and who knows maybe my dog buddy did take away my illness to save me and then died because of it; he succumbed to a respiratory defect! It’s all relative my friend and putting things into their proper perspective isn’t that hard to do when we add up how much there is to be joyful about; there’s way more of that good stuff all around and I won’t let some crap defeat me even the type I got that was all inflicted on me by nefarious persons.

    PS sorry about posting this twice but getting over a cold and not always good at catching my typos, I did see one later so decided because it wasn’t posted yet maybe I could fix it! Thanks.

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    • The love of a dog is an incredibly healing thing. Love in general, when given freely, is an extraordinary thing.

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      • Absolutely, and they are very intuitive so they know us better than we give them credit for at times. Let’s say in those close associations I had with by little buddy; I could venture to say he loved me at that moment more than anyone on earth! So innocent and sweet too! Shalom.

      • Dogs are brilliant in very special ways!

      • Most assuredly gifted, we could say with special traits that were created in them, I believe. Dog spelt backwards is God and I really like that! That little buddy of mine was found by me when a year old and would have been a goner that night as the pack of coyotes that had been seen in the vicinity for many days before the fateful dark night when I came along. Also a main road with many cars racing down it was just hundreds of feet away from were I found him. I had gotten a notion to take a turn down a back road going home and not go the usual way. Then suddenly, a barely observable dark shadow in the shadows of that very dark unlit area made me stop to see what I thought I saw, and sure enough it was a young black lab mix who was as it turned out dumped because he had a peeing problem, but obviously an owner that was given a puppy for free and didn’t want to bother working on the issue. I still get teary eyed when I think about him. Wish I could see him again now, but I hope someday, somehow through God’s miracles I will, in a better place, where we leave behind all of the problems and imperfections.

      • By the way I meant to ask about the Ehlers Danlos; if you are seeing any improvement or trying any new naturalistic/diet therapy that at least reduces the impact of the condition. A neighborhood friend that I grew up with married a nice lady who has the same condition. They moved to Florida some years ago and occasionally I ask her how she is feeling. It appears to be from what I know about it a very stubborn ailment that perhaps science and medicine haven’t fully understood yet like so many immune-response diseases. I even had a thyroid illness for a period that must have been caused by an out of control immune response in my body, but in my case over several years with medical intervention everything was reversed and the condition disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared.

      • So far, the only treatment for ehlers danlos is physical therapy and being careful. It seems to frequently co-occur with auto-immune disorders but it isn’t one itself, so it isn’t treated in the same ways.

      • Thanks for the clarification and I do remember the physical therapy piece along with of course being careful as routine but I was hoping you heard or leaned of some new cutting edge wisdom into this difficult condition! I’m stubborn about these things and always want to believe at least being hopeful that someone can wrap their head around the molecular basic culprit that causes it, as I do think there is an explanation and most likely biochemical and genetically transferred perhaps, but nonetheless with greater insight an actual resolving remedy can be found. I’ll pray for that and hope yours is much less acute moving forward, miraculously!
        Hey in my way of seeing things with your sweet dogs around you’re off to a great start!

  13. Every good dog deserves a platypus.

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  14. Dogs are not only brilliant but sometimes I wonder if there smarter some humans LOL.
    So your dog wanted a video with dogs in it. Have a good weekend.

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  15. You are doing better than me with the meditation stuff. My hubby does it every day before supper and often before his shower in the morning when he has time, too. And he exercises on a stationary bike, too, and watches training videos. If only I were so disciplined! He had a lot of the Mindfulness CD’s, but we sold them all. I bet that you will incorporated what you’ve learned from yours into your daily life without even thinking about it.

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  16. Can I just say that Cricket and Ellie look absolutely adorable in their pink bows. I think Adi would much prefer them to the bunny ears, bonnets, and tutus my girls often dress her up in. On another note, I love how you are able to so clearly articulate your feelings and perspective in writing.

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  17. Yes! I have had the same struggles with mindfulness… After I got hooked on yoga (only Youtube yoga, 20-30 min per day) I did an online course for Mindfulness but found I was too busy to finish (ironic) and even too busy to do 10 minutes of mindful breathing per day. Clearly I just didn’t see the value enough to make the time. Now I do a little, like you, and it truly helps me to feel more at home and in touch with my body and my self. Keep it up – big changes come in small increments. 🙂

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  18. I learned Transcendental Meditation during my “hippie” days , back in 1971. It was part of the interest in Eastern philosophies propagated by the Maherhesi Mahesi Yogi. Wow, hard to believe I actually remember this stuff. 🙂

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  19. I started mindfulness practice through an employee wellness program and find it very helpful!

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  20. 🙂 And, the itsy bits of bows on the dogs are spring cute!!

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  21. It is a delicate balance with dissociative disorders and meditations. Too much in the body at once can be pretty deregulating. I like the practices where you listen to every sound or look around at every object in addition to sensing your body. For me too much focus on my body often ends up triggering me. So grounding helps me with little bits of body sensing at a time.
    Peace as always.

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  22. I believe focusing on the now is important to true mindfulness, but I understand your point!

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  23. Mindfulness PRACTICE. Get it? That is why it is called a practice. It is something one continues to do . . . and not necessarily with the idea or the goal of getting “better”. It is just something to do continually. Sometimes it will be easier than others, but . . . .that is why it is called a practice.

    I also don’t think that yoga has to be done for any certain – set amount of time. I think any yoga – as long as it is intentional – is good. One day you may feel like doing 30 second holds, the next day 10 seconds, and the next 45, you may do three poses or five . . . . it is an ever changing thing. As long as when you are done you feel good then you have done it “right”.

    ~My two cents. 🙂

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  24. Hi, I liked your post, especially when you admit meditation is hard. But it is inspiring to know how your sustained the practice and used the experience for a positive result. Looking forward for more posts. Take care. The images are cute and witty.

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  25. I am just starting the practice of being mindful. I need to get back into yoga as well. I’ve tried it online but it wasn’t questio the the same as being in the room with others.

    One thing I do often is a thing I call Mindful Showers. https://www.hazelssoapery.com/2020/01/02/mindful-showers-quick-ways-to-self-care/ they help me a lot. To the point I want to shower all times of the day

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  26. This is a great read with wonderful pictures of your dogs. We hope to pick up a copy of your book soon. Thanks for posting!

    Reply

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