There were some good jokes about mindfulness on a recent episode of my current favourite TV drama, Cold Feet. Pete, one of the central characters, had been suffering badly from depression; his wife, Jenny, persuaded him to try a mindfulness class, and, even though he dismissed it as 'mindlessness', he went along. I suppose it was the AFAQL principle, which underpins so much of married life, in action: Anything For A Quiet Life.
Before long, though, Pete was a mindfulness convert - meditating and zen and everything. He got Jenny and David doing the 'contemplate the raisin' meditation which is probably familiar to anyone who's read a book on mindfulness, taken a class, downloaded an app. I suppose you could say it helps you to deal with things which are causing you distress at the currant moment. Anyway, mindfulness was really helping Pete, though Jenny, whose idea it had been, wasn't so convinced.
It's a funny thing, trying to be mindful. I've tried and I'm not good at it at all - my mind tends to whiz around like the washing machine on its final spin cycle, throwing ideas and obligations and random memories and possibilities in my direction like so many lost socks or items which I'll have to iron out later. If I'm going to be mindful, going to observe my breathing or my thoughts or meditate on how I'm actually getting on in a specific moment, I have to try really hard. Even when I'm using an app or a downloaded meditation, I'll find my mind wandering off to the to do list, the possibility of my next cup of coffee, what the weather might be like at the weekend. My mind is the annoying child, eternally in the back seat, continually asking 'are we there yet?' - and when we're there, it's worrying about when we have to go home and will the journey be ok and will there be time for reading before bedtime. I'm certainly not good at contemplating the raisin before I eat it; focusing on the moment without agonising about the ones that have passed or worrying about those that are to come does not - let's say - come naturally.
It's exhausting, being a worrier. It's like living your day two or three times over, doing all the things you have to do and worrying about them as well, plus a bit of anxiety about all those things you did and said yesterday, and the day before, and last week, and last month and even years ago. Did you offend that person, not offer enough support to someone else, annoy that other person without even realising, let alone meaning to? Did you look stupid - foolish - fat? And what about the future? What about those social events you're worried about - will you be boring, awkward, out of place? Will your outfit be all wrong ? It goes on. Focusing on your thinking in that moment is like trying to track the progress of a pinball in a maze, pinging in all directions and never quite going where you want it to.
The big brother of technology keeps an eye on my progress in lots of ways during the day: how many steps I do, whether I stand up enough, how much exercise I do, what calories I consume and burn. I know, I know: I shouldn't really be giving an account of the mechanics of my day to an overpriced, judgemental gadget. Exhausting as it is, somehow the effort of thinking and overthinking and over-analysis doesn't seem to count for any calories or steps or movement. Every now and then, a discreet tap reminds me I should breathe. It notices if I walk around when I'm doing this (I tried breathing and dusting simultaneously last week: I mean, multi-tasking should be fine?) but it doesn't notice if I'm breathing but thinking too... I can try to put my house in order in a more figurative kind of way while I'm breathing for a moment. Maybe that's a kind of mindful thinking in itself, a kind of taking stock.
I'm probably not going to have time to contemplate a raisin, though I did find myself staring at a halved walnut not so long ago, pondering its similarity to a cross-sectioned human brain. (Try it. It's weird.) My cross sectioned walnut brain is tired. It's congested with thoughts and pondered reactions, and it feels as though they're clogging it up just like the nasty cold which seems to have popped up just after I got my flu injection. But maybe that's normal. Maybe we're all the same. Life seems summed up by the moment in traffic recently where the man in the BMW X5 beeped his horn and waved his fist at me because I'd paused for two or three seconds to let a harassed-looking driver out of the driveway of a neighbouring school. There's no time to stop, whether it's to contemplate a raisin or to be compassionate, even briefly, to yourself or someone else. Our minds are all spinning with thoughts like washing machines or fairground rides.
Maybe this 'stop, breathe and think' thing isn't such a joke after all.