M is for Mindfulness, Memory, and Magic in the Mundane

| February 11, 2014

A few reflections on our first class discussion of “experiences,” what constitutes them, and whether they can only be understood retroactively:
Lately I’ve been trying to cultivate mindfulness—that is, staying mentally present in a given moment, rather than getting lost in mind chatter, distractions, or judgments. As someone who spends entirely too much time gazing at her navel and/or smartphone, this isn’t easy, but it’s all the more crucial to keep bringing myself back to a mindful state; otherwise, you end up missing out on a great deal.
A common mindfulness meditation is to fully engage one’s senses while performing a mundane task: for example, while washing dishes, focusing on the temperature of the water on your skin, the textures and colors of the plates, the smell of the soap, etc. I have never liked washing dishes—it’s an everyday necessity, but it’s tedious and time-consuming. However, while facing down another load of them, I decided to give the mindfulness exercise a shot. While doing so, I found myself noticing the individual items in the sink a lot more prominently, and recalling the various memories and connotations I associated with them. The pink Hello Kitty bento box—purchased, of all places, at a hospital gift shop while my boyfriend received treatment for a blood clot—reminding me of the ability to find cheer and whimsy even during a particularly dark time. A pirate-shaped tiki mug from Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village, purchased the night I finally met in person an Internet acquaintance who would end up becoming one of my best friends in New York. My good sharp chef’s knife, its ability to slice anything from brownies to butternut squash helping me to prepare countless meals, each with their own associations and memories. In this act of presence and remembering, a previously hated task become surprisingly pleasurable, and rekindled my awareness and gratitude for all that I’ve experienced.
Perhaps we could argue that it wasn’t really mindful because my thoughts ended up wandering to such matters, or that I could only recognize these experiences as significant when viewed through a lens of nostalgia. (I can’t recall whether I realized each experience’s importance at the time; probably not). But such is the nature of “experience”—as slippery and ephemeral as soap bubbles in a sink.