After one week of my Happiness Project, I was feeling dejected and discouraged. I had given myself what I thought were pretty simple resolutions. Breathe. Be Aware of Judgmental Thoughts. Keep a Log of my Emotions. And here I was not keeping up with them every day. What was wrong with me? I, as you know, tried to reason through and figure out how I could get myself to keep to my resolutions. Everything I came up with was very practical, and that left me feeling even more discouraged when I still didn’t keep all of my resolutions even after all of that good reasoning through everything.
So, I despaired, worked out, and took a break to watch a movie. The exercise helped me to release some of my pent-up frustration and stress and put me in a frame of mind better suited to rational thinking. When I got home, I found my husband and daughter washing dishes at the sink while my nearly-one-year-old son sat paging through board books in the dining room, calling every animal either a “doggie” or a “kitty” using his signs. This peaceful scene didn’t last long, but seeing it on my arrival home helped facilitate a shift in my thinking.
Then after the kids were in bed, my husband and I watched the film version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins. I think taking a break to watch any movie probably would have helped give me some distance to get a more realistic perspective on my situation, but this film was particularly provocative. Its themes include the relationship between a husband and wife, the roll of a wife and mother, and what happens when our expectations of our spouse don’t match up with their reality. The facts of the story differed quite markedly from those of my life, but I found I could relate to Nora’s character. Seeing her struggles played out got me thinking about my own my roll as wife and mother and finding my identity within this roll.
I thought that since my mindfulness resolutions were simple, they would be easy to apply and allow me to reap instant benefits. But upon further reflection, I realize my mistake. The resolutions I set for myself this month are deceptive because while they seem simple, they involve changing my thought processes and peeling back the layers of awareness to expose parts of myself I don’t always confront. That’s a challenge, especially when it requires admitting unflattering things about myself.
For example, the baby woke up three times during the movie. While I nursed him back to sleep, I took that opportunity to check in with myself about my emotions. I realized I was feeling impatient because I wanted to get back to my movie. I was worried that my husband would get bored or tired and decide to go to bed before I could get back out to finish the movie, and I would feel disappointed because I wanted to watch it with him. I sat with this for a while and then realized that I felt selfish and guilty because I was wishing away this moment of quiet and closeness in my son’s fleeting babyhood. It was then that I realized a big part of why I have trouble recognizing my emotions: when I peel back the layers, I often need to admit to having feelings that don’t match my expectation of myself as a mother. This expectation may not be realistic, but that doesn’t mean it’s less disappointing to not live up to it.
Being aware of my judgmental thoughts is similarly uncomfortable. I was shocked and embarrassed to learn just how much judging—especially negative judging—I do in a day. Until I had the awareness of it, it was just background chatter. But when I put my attention on it, I have to address it and recognize it and put it somewhere.
The task I’ve set for myself is a larger one than I realized at first. I put mindfulness as the area of focus for the first month because I consider it foundational to the rest of the project. I still think it’s in the right place, but I think addressing it first and having resolutions without much concrete output gave me the false sense that this would be an easy month. Now that I realize how big an undertaking it is to raise my awareness of my inner workings, I want to try to be more gentle with myself when I don’t embrace facing up to my insides.
My friend, David, in North Carolina, gave me a chant shortly before we moved away that I am going to try to say to myself as a daily reminder:
I will be gentle with myself.
I will be gentle with myself.
I am a child of the universe
Being born in every moment.