Getting a Peace of My Mind

Over the last few years, one of the big differences I noticed between myself and my kids was the way we worked. And by work I mean inviting and finding success with brain function, not our skill level with bow and arrow, or our ability to use a circular saw.

Those rougher, physical arts I still claim top spot in, but our intake and processing of information is apples to oranges. Or maybe even apples to orangutans. Not even remotely close.

Somewhere along the way from infancy to young adulthood, their gray matter grew partitions and looks somewhat like the inside of a fifty story office building with each floor holding hundreds of worker bee cubicles. They all function independently separate and together. Those little parts work for the giant godhead of global function. It is a hive of ongoing mental stimulation.

My brain is more like a gelatinous fish egg sack someone hauls over the side and onto the floor of a boat. It’s filled with potential, and it’s interesting enough to have folks peer at it with wonder, but no one really wants to go near it.

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My attention cannot be divided from the one project I assign it. One brain, no partitions, solitary job. Biologically, that’s as far as it goes. I’ve attempted multitasking before, but without the necessary hardware—the partitions—it’s like trying to build a concrete foundation with black strap molasses and prop it up with toothpicks.

Brain wandering is a specialty of mine, but I’ve spent years developing that talent because it’s a necessary skill in writing fiction. And if you’ve read or watched any version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you’ll have the barebones structure of how I go about my business. Multiple times a day, I see a waving hand before my face, or hear the repeated snapping of impatient fingers trying to get my attention.

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Thus, I’ve found that sharing the same air space with either one of my progeny while attempting to accomplish anything cerebral is wasted effort. Well, let me rephrase that. They can work just fine. I cannot organize enough thought energy to remember how one is supposed to write sentences, or calculate figures, or blink. I am annoyingly DISTRACTED.

I am sidetracked by their music—which usually has a tempo that calls out a challenge to my heartbeat. Sadly, this pace is one that most physicians would use after they’ve placed you on a treadmill for a stress test and are trying to ascertain the uppermost level of strain they can place upon your blood pumping internal organ before you pass out and break your nose on the handlebars.

My attention is diverted by the pinging of all their technological devices, the vibrating of their phones, the trips to the fridge, the video chatting with their friends, and the clinking of ice in their glasses.

Hell, there are even times when I lose focus because I heard someone swallow. And although I can bark at them to turn down their music or shut off their phones, I can’t ask them to stop any involuntary muscle movement. Well, I can, and I have, but I don’t think they’re really trying.

So I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m going all Jedi on my bodhi. Well, maybe it’s more like going rodeo on my consciousness. I’m learning how to reclaim it and reel it in when it starts leaking out my ears.

And I’m doing this by practicing a little bit of simple meditation every day.

I discovered a few good apps and narrowed it down to two that I found would work with my temperament and schedule. I started with an iTunes search that churned up an oceanic pot full of them, but then I cut out all the ones that didn’t require a credit card or ask that you rise at three a.m. for optimal results. Free and do it when you please fit my criteria.

A prerequisite for finding success when you’re first starting off on the meditation merry go round is a QUIET PLACE. This obviously means a place where neither of my kids has a physical presence. I go to my bedroom, and shut the door. But in my house, a closed door is like a magnet for knocking hands.

“Mom? What are you doing?”

“Go away.”

“When’s dinner?”

“Go away.”

“There’s no water coming out of the faucets.”

Three a.m. is looking more attractive every minute.

Even if I’m alone in the house, I’m not alone in the house. My fur-faced affiliates see me on the floor as part invitation, part challenge.

There is a lap, and I belong in it.

There is a lap, a ball belongs in it.

The minute I close my eyes and “focus on my breath,” I become uncomfortably aware of the fact that two others are focusing on my face. I can feel their breath on my face as they stare at it and mentally converse with one another, asking why I’m attempting to sleep sitting up. Then I hear the beginnings of a beleaguering brawl: a grand event ending in a fierce game of “If you do that again I will make hashtags on your eyeballs.” After tossing them both out the bedroom and closing the door, they become lab partners and endeavor to regain access. But their engineering feats lack imagination, skill, and opposable thumbs. Their efforts would bring about the same amount of praise as hiring an architect to build you a house out of triply ply toilet paper.

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Nothing these two do makes sense.

The constant pawing at the door. The constant pawing beneath the door.  The constant pausing I must do in order to open the door, shout and close the door again.

It is a process, this finding a quiet space in order to quiet my mind. It is also apparent that I must first train my family before I can begin training me.

I’m pretty sure the only way I will find success at this point is to secure a little help by my side. So now when I sit down to meditate, I make sure I have my bow and arrow on one side, and the circular saw on the other.

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With this minor adjustment, all great minds think alike.


Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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74 thoughts on “Getting a Peace of My Mind

  1. I’ve taken yoga and mediation classes over the years, including a highly regarded Mindfulness Based Meditation by Jon Kabat Zinn. I go in and out of practice, and wonder why I don’t stay with it. It’s both centering and relaxing. When my mind locks up before writing, I will often close my eyes, plant both feet on the floor and breathe. It’s extraordinary that we have this at our fingertips.

    My son improved his ability to process the steady assault of auditory stimuli by working with an audiologist. It made a huge difference for him.

    Best of luck with your practice, Shelly. Thanks for the reminder, too, that I need to get back in the saddle…or the mat.

    • Ooh, I’ll have to check out Jon Kabat Zinn. I’m not familiar with him. Big thanks for the tip, Alys. Meant to tell you before how much I really enjoyed your recommendation of the book Quiet by Susan Cain. Terrific read. The good thing is that the house is slowly clearing out. One child off to uni, the second soon to have his driver’s license. Then it’s just me and the fur-faced friends. I can feel my zen coming closer. 🙂

  2. PS If the bow and arrow and the circular saw don’t work, try this tip from a zookeeper. Make a busy box for the cat (toilet paper roll with a small hole in it, stuffed with a treat and some catnip). This will keep kitty busy and happy. Your pup gets a Kong with peanut butter inside. Then all three of you can go to your zen place. Please report back.

  3. Oh wow, I feel your pain, Shelley. First off, I think it’s better to do one thing very well than to multi-task and do many things half-assed. I can’t multi-task because it seems like my memory is getting worse by the day, and if I start one task and then another, and another, within a few minutes I’ll forget the first task I started, and so on. And I’m the worst meditator on Earth! I even bought this little timer that makes a peaceful chiming sound after I’ve been sitting on a cushion for 10 minutes. I’ve used it once. For one thing, I can’t sit still. For another, I have horrible posture (should have listened to Mom all those times she told me not to slouch), and so within a few minutes, my back starts hurting. And when my little dog Belle was still alive, she was very puzzled that I was sitting on the floor and yet refused to play. She’d bring her favorite toy, and as I was trying to be all Zen, she’d push the toy against my foot and squeak it–repeatedly. When that didn’t work, she’d lick my hand. And when that failed, she threw herself on her back, stuck her legs in the air, and rolled around like she was having a convulsion just to get my attention. (She also wasn’t too keen on me writing for long periods of time. I’d let her sit next to me in my chair while I typed on the laptop, and pretty soon, a paw would reach out and scratch at the back of my hand. If that didn’t stop me, she’d just get up and walk across the keyboard.) I’m glad you’ve found some apps to help you on your meditation journey. Let me know how they turn out. Maybe there’s hope for me, too. And you’re also excellent with a bow and arrow AND a circular saw? Damn, my lady, you truly are Wonder Woman!

    • Ha! I didn’t say I was excellent, just that my skills hover slightly above that of the kids’. Robin Hood I am not, but exceptional aim with a circular saw is unnecessary to get my general point across.
      Now what are we going to do about our memory issues? Come to think of it (if memory serves) you’re too young to be having troubles in that department. But if it’s true, I’m going to blame it on the the fact that most of your synapses are already employed in the generation of story and are spoken for. Likely you’ve just reached capacity. Mine is more like a breakdown of hardware that never got the correct updating patches in the first place.
      And little Belle sounds like she was too gorgeous to ignore. A perfect, puckish little personality. I think I’ve figured out what’s going to work for me from now on. I just put down on the floor the dog leash, the cat carrier and my car keys, and when those two rascals come in I say, “Who wants to go to the vet?”

      • Well, I wouldn’t even go near a circular saw. Or a bow and arrow. (I didn’t even try to carve a pumpkin until I was in my early 20’s, because my dad kept telling me, “You’re going to cut your finger off.”) As far as my memory goes, I think I spent so many years worrying constantly about utter nonsense, my brain finally just overheated. Haha! That’s it. Meditate with the cat carrier and the leash by your side. And instead of chanting, “Ohm,” chant, “Vet.” 🙂

  4. Shelley~ On the practical side:
    *Ear plugs. I find the kid’s size “soft moldable silicone putty” work best. They go over the ear canal opening (versus in which is good since I don’t like sticking things in my ear).

    *White noise machine. The one I have offers a variety of sounds from running water, to ocean, to birds chirping & the like. If you don’t have one, you-tube has a lot of white noise type offerings.

    On the meditative side:
    I’ve always heard it said when a thought comes to you, take note and let it drift on its way. From that I gather while the yogi/spiritual leader ideal is to have total control of one’s thoughts to the point of turning them on and off at will, the rest of us mere mortals (and we parents/animal owners/etc) who have so many distractions, simply acknowledge those distractions and get back to claiming a few moments to ourselves. Rumor has it with practice it gets easier. The great thing about being out of shape, whether physically or meditatively, is a little movement yields a great return.

    “Namaste” or would saying “Om” be more appropriate? Perhaps “follow your breath.” Whatever, you get the idea. Here’s hoping you and the stillness become well acquainted.

    • Many thanks, Tana, for the bevy of bountiful tips. I look forward to implementing them slowly into my study.
      It appears you’ve had plenty of particulars to put into practice–and great success with the results.

      • Shelley~Not sure how successful I’ve been. (Actually in the meditation/quieting the mind department I’d say “not very.”) However, since I believe the end result worthy, I continue in my efforts to reach it. *smiles ruefully at her all too humanness*

  5. Know what you mean trying to find a quiet place.
    There’s a lot ot be said for lying in the bath with a good book and a CD in the player allowing yourself to go all pruny.
    Sadly, when there is only one bathroom and the loo is in it, after a while the new beat is someone banging on the door desperate for a wee!
    Love Rob’s final cartoon!

  6. My concentration waxes and wanes according to how well I’m sleeping. I choose moving meditation in the form of a walk, but when I’m short of sleep nothing helps, and I’m seriously short of sleep these days. I keep telling my brain it needs to keep me asleep for at least 7.5 hours, but 6 is the best it will do. I, too, love the wandering brain illustration! Namaste.

    • Oh, blessed sleep. If we could all just get enough!
      A little while back, on an afternoon where I was particularly wiped out, I forced one of two options on myself as I wasn’t making much cognitive progress. 1-take an hour nap, or 2-meditate for 30 minutes. Being the minute miser that I am, I chose the second option. And was wholly surprised to discover that I felt better than if I’d have taken the nap. Hope it wasn’t a fluke. I’m kinda banking on that to work for a while.
      And for days I’ve not been able to get The Happy Wanderer out of my head. Earworm. But a cheerful earworm. xx

  7. Silence and solitude is essential…it’s mandatory, even for a few precious minutes a day. Do what it takes, Shelley, and good luck!! Perhaps a ‘little talk’ to interrupters beforehand, or even a mild threat – I find even the most incorrigible of them don’t want an insane, manic or demented mother! (The furry/hairy ones are another story…) 🙂

    • The little talk, the lengthy lecture, the mild threat–it all leads up to the circular saw. I’m hoping the fact that it now sits at my side will be enough to get a “Message received loud and clear!” signal from the troops. We shall see, Lee-Anne. But I thank you for the wish of good luck. Fingers crossed. 😉

  8. I completely relate to this Shelley as I too have been trying to rediscover some inner equilibrium these last few days and failing miserably for similar reasons! I’m finally getting the hang of the breathing, sitting quietly in my chair and one of the dogs will leap up and bark at full decibel tilt at an imaginary intruder and leave me having a minor heartattack! I have now realised the only thing that relaxes me is disappearing off into my photographic world for half an hour or so! Even then the cat likes to come and lie in the middle of my still life setups! Stay calm and persevere ! 🙂

    • It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, Jane, that your photographic world sends you to another planet entirely. I say this, because I so often want to join you on that planet. You make everything appear cozy and provincial, halcyon and idyllic. I want to live inside your photos. *sigh* Your pictures are the epitome of zen to me. 😉

  9. Archery and wood working. Is that a cross between Robin Hood and This Old House? All I have to contend with is a cat that has to be in the middle of the computer and a woman that insists on asking questions while I am using Dragon. I don’t know if I could handle teenagers again. You know old age and stuff. I think I read somewhere that a talented writer makes the common into the uncommon. The more I read your work the more I am inclined to believe it. You paint some wonderful mental images and if there is any confusion in the mind’s eye Rob’s drawings removes all doubt. You too make for a great pair. I have never tried Yoga. I doubt that I ever will. I do meditate occasionally, and if that doesn’t work there is always the fall back, medicate.

    • Benson, your gracious words have just filled me with more contentment and happiness than a bucketful of Buddha breaths. Yeah, I know, that sounds kinda wonky to me too, but I think you get my picture. It’s one of gratitude. Thank you for the lovely things you said about my writing. It means the world.
      And I love your plan B. 😛

  10. Hahaha – loved this, as we are so alike! Even though I do not have kids (nor animals at this point), I do have a husband – and we are both together all day now. In a much smaller house than we’ve ever been used to. And I cannot write OR read with any noise, chatter, movies, videos, etc. going on around me… TOTALLY GET THIS! 🙂

    • Can really relate to this response from jenbeckseymour….I know EXACTLY how you feel crammed into a much-smaller space…..actually, come to that, I can actually see myself chucking husband and son out the window along with the animals at times……..

  11. Your combination of weaponry and zen meditation is inspired. The illustrations cracked me up, who wouldn’t laugh at a giant brain on legs? The meditation classes I did years ago were missing that one vital step….from now on, the dog and small boys will keep their distance. Thanks once again for being that path blazing, inspirational, slightly Hunger Gamesish bow and arrow toting, cool mumma.

    • Yes! Thanks, Cheergerm. I am so going to make that description into a slogan. Or a T-shirt. Or a tattoo.
      Now if I can just manage to get myself appointed a “Cinna,” my problems are solved.
      I’d love to show up at a parent/teacher meeting with clothes that are ‘on fire.’

  12. I agree with Lee-Anne about silence and solitude, but meditation is extremely challenging. I once went to yoga classes with a sweet little guru named Michael, who had the magical ability to banish all thought from my mind with his hypnotic voice and instructions on how to assume the cobra pose. My favorite thing was how he ended the sessions with total relaxation of every muscle one by one, ending in the corpse pose!! I even bought his cassette tape, which worked like a charm. Alas, both are long gone now.

  13. Rob’s wandering brain should be on a t-shirt. It’s my favorite so far. Hope it makes your calendar. The only time I get alone is in my car! There’s a back road that gently twists and follows the high ground with a valley view of rock formations and big big sky. It’s so therapeutic for me. I often think if I stopped and sat on a rock for fifteen minutes pretending to be a bird out there, I wouldn’t need a chiropractor, a shrink, or a bottle of wine. 😉

    • Yep, the brain is hands down my favorite as well, Cindy. I think I may have herniated something when I first saw it.
      And those are the ultimate drives–the alone in your car and off you go in a wayfaring, landloping sort of way.
      And no bottle of wine?? What will whet your whistle when your throat grows parched from chanting your mantras? 🙄

  14. Animal tossing pic is classic. How many times have I felt like doing exactly that? OMG. I really relate to you saying you’re not even alone when you’re alone because of the animals being omnipresent in one way or another. I am thinking perhaps you need not to retrain your family/animals as much as build yourself a soundproof treehouse and make sure it is completely camouflaged so no one in the world can find you, even birds! Yes, a treehouse will be just the place for you to take up your meditation and refind your “center.” Barring that, are there any caves near your home? Caves could be equally as good as a treehouse without the added effort of having to build it… have to be careful of bats and bears though….hmmmm. But cave also a good option I think.

    • Those are excellent suggestions! I shall call them my In Trance Treehouse and my Deep Thought Dug Out. Now, if I could only win a freakishly large lottery, then I can hire myself a Handy Henry to build my Meditation Metropolis. Woot Woot!

  15. I have a wandering brain too. I think all writers are born with one. However, my brain seems to have a direct link to my mouth at times and I often think aloud (blurt out). I was riding with my mom once and thinking of a story I was writing when out of the blue I said: “I need to get rid of the corpse’s wallet.” Luckily, I wasn’t out in public with a bunch of strangers. Great post, Shelley! I might give meditation a try. 🙂

  16. It’s wonderful to read so many thoughts and comments about this post and I’m especially pleased that my “Wandering Brain” has been so popular. In my mind’s ear this wandering brain (which, by the way, is autobiographical in origin) sings with the voice of Lee Marvin. Can’t get that tune out of my head now…

  17. Love this Shelley, im afraid i cant offer any suggestions as i have always been blessed with the ability to switch of the surrounding distractions, my kids used to say it took 20 minutes to get through to me when im reading etc ( slight exageration me thinks) but im sure this ability will fizzle out at some point so i shall mentally store all the great ideas. By the way wandering brain is one of the best yet :))

    • Lucky you, Janice! You seem to possess advanced yogi skills, or maybe you’ve just found where the on/off switch is?
      And I promise, should there ever come a time when you need to review some of the wonderful suggestions–they are archived here for as long as the internet allows. Plus, by the time you need help, maybe there’ll be a whole new development in the art of zenning. 😛

  18. Shelley, I hear your pain. I am terrible at traditional meditation – when I sit still in silence, everything is a distraction to me. I solved this problem when I took up tai chi as a moving meditation. I get to move around while concentrating on the moves, and that focus is what puts me in a meditative state. The trick, of course, is finding the time (and the space in my living room) to do tai chi… 🙂

    • Ooh, I love tai chi–such a beautiful practice of movement and art. And of course, if you speed it up super fast you can be an extra in the next volume of Kill Bill.
      I practiced tai chi for a couple of months in a class. Sadly, the teacher quit shortly thereafter as she realized that we were an un-instructable crowd who were lucky enough to have the capable skills to walk across the street without the assistance of others. Ah well. I admire from a distance now.

    • Credit for the doodle goes to the great and gallant Robin Gott. Credit for the existence of said wandering brain goes to a fluke of bad genetics.
      I’m sure we’d all like to send a few ‘no thank you’ notes to our folks.

  19. Bahahaha!!! I could not stop the laughter! You sound exactly like my husband. I will try to eat a bowl of cereal while he is working and he will immediately look up at me “Why are you chewing so loud?!” I will have to show him this!

    Your meditation was my favorite! I have had the genius idea to practice yoga while the kids play. Just like your little fur balls though, they definitely take this as “time to climb all over mom.” 🙂

    • I think there’s that whole spectrum idea of where people land with their sensitivity calibration. Apparently, your husband and I fall smack dab on the end that’s labeled ‘For your own good, make wide berth of sentient beings.’
      Sorry bout that. But it’s heartening that you can laugh. Most folks would simply dump the cereal over our heads and say, “No worries. I was finished anyway.” 😛
      Keep up that great yoga practice–and maybe eventually the kids will go from using you as a jungle gym to seeing the fun of copying your downward facing dog. Here’s hoping!

  20. Oh, can’t catch my breath for laughing!! Especially the part about you trying meditate with the cat and dog watching. That I can totally relate to. Priceless!! Thanks for the brilliant, uplifting start to my day. If only I could breath!!

  21. Meditation is important. My personal favorite is “Ultimate OM” by Jonathan Goldman. Over an hour of multi-layered monk chanting. My father and I used to meditate to it together in the car. A bit of nostalgia for me. 🙂 I’m going to have to try it again, soon.

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