Is Mindfulness The Same As Escaping Reality?

Can one of you enlightened people please tell me how – or if – you know when you are truly being mindful and when you are instead using your mindfulness to escape the (sometimes very) harsh reality of life?

I was at a funeral this week. My mother’s precious cousin, gone too soon after a battle with dementia.  An unfair, horrible battle that she was never going to win and that caused her and all who knew her a huge amount of pain and suffering. A merciful release, some would say, but nonetheless the emotions of those left behind – the emptiness, the things that were unsaid, the gaping hole that only she can fill, the confusion, the unanswered questions, the existential issues that inevitably arise in times like this – were so raw that I was actually aware of the thought process involved in my mind choosing to check out: ‘Come back to your breath, Nic. Watch your body breathing (whilst witnessing the outpouring of grief and loss of the family)… breathe in… (the beautiful stories of a treasured shared childhood told with a voice broken with grief by the younger sister – and me with my older sister sitting safely beside me: what would I even begin to do without her?)…. breathe out….. (my mum sitting on my other side with her head cocked to one side, listening to the tributes with tears quietly but steadily streaming down her face – I wonder if she’s thinking of her own older sister who died far too young)…feel the solidity of the church bench that I’m sitting upon… (my cousin’s beautiful and strong words despite the fact that he is here to bury his own mother – how on earth does that feel? Does one ever really get over that? It’s the natural order and the way it’s supposed to be, and yet…)…observe the sunlight streaming in through the church window, catching motes of dust and making them twinkle like tiny floating diamonds… (now that one of the two remaining siblings – a big, strapping man in his sixties, strong as an ox and usually with a great big smile on his face – is back at his place after his tribute, his grief replaces the composure from a minute ago and his strong body is racked by sobs as he sits in the bench in front of me and I could reach out and touch him and I wish I could hold his pain and help him to make sense it in a meaningful way but instead I…)…focus on my breath… become aware of the perfume of the person sitting next to me…(interesting how there are so many different faiths, so many different ways of making sense of death and loss – we are all looking for a way of understanding and finding peace and even though we are all so different, how death and loss create a common ground that we can all come together on)…come back to my breath…. feel my belly rising and falling as I sit here, in this moment…(have I said all I want to say to those I love? Am I living a life that is true and good and honest to both myself and those I interact with?)…and this moment, and this… (it is so painful to see people suffering so much and not being able to do anything to ease that pain – it’s necessary, it’s got to happen, it’s part of the process)…and not wanting anything to be different….. being aware of the mind-body connection, in the present moment, with acceptance…..

Do you see what I’m saying?  

Is it a cop-out to allow oneself a conscious ‘out of body’ experience like this? And if this is the whole point, does one then consciously set aside time to ponder these questions? Or does one allow the two processes to co-exist, checking in and out of one and then the other as necessary? 

It works when I’m dealing with my fiery three year old – when she’s kicking and screaming, it’s extremely helpful for all concerned if I can discipline myself to create a bit of distance from the situation: ‘Interesting how she is now going scarlet in the face and attempting to throw her porridge over the floor…. It’s just how it is and it won’t always be this way…’. It’s so wonderful to be able to stay present and not go down the route of ‘oh my GOD I am creating a little beast who is going to have a miserable life because she can’t control her temper and because I can’t seem to figure out what she needs from me as a mother and why can’t I get this right and why the HELL doesn’t my husband try to do what I say, even though I’ve been barking out commands all morning – and why am I so bloody bossy when things get stressful and is this really what motherhood and marriage is all about and is it just us or does everyone have this sort of chaos in the mornings and oh SHIT now Danny’s late for playball and he’s going to be stressed and I haven’t even brushed my teeth and will this bloody dog just get out of my WAY…’ but rather ‘even though all hell is breaking loose here in the dining room right now, it’s all right; we are all well, the sun is shining outside, it’s noisy and it’s okay, this moment shall pass and we will be fine and right now, even this is just as it should be and there is no need or benefit in finding this whole situation lacking’. As my darling granny would say, ‘It is what it is’. The end. Not good, not bad, it just is what it is. 

OBVIOUSLY in situations like that, mindfulness is an absolute boon, a gift, a gem that I hold and treasure and value for how it shines and gets me through challenging situations and allows me to find that precious moment between stimulus and response. But still the question lingers…

What do you think? Do you use mindfulness to escape reality?


10 thoughts on “Is Mindfulness The Same As Escaping Reality?

  1. Kate Squire-Howe says:

    I was deeply moved by your writing Nikki, I can hear how painful your Mom’s Aunts funeral was. I find that so often in life we are called to bear witness to others, to our own experiences. I see the body and senses as an anchor, bringing us back to the moment – you describe this so beautifully.

    • So true, Kate. And yet sometimes I feel that the very ability to bring myself back to the moment means that I’m dragging myself away from an uncomfortable feeling or thought, and then it’s more like escapism or denial than an anchor? Do you know what I mean? I’m struggling to express it. I think you know what I mean x x

      • Kate Squire-Howe says:

        Yes I get a sense of what you are saying, although its illusive and I often find illusive things are truths. I think I’m going to live with this question and let it live in me – thank you for raising it.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Nicci it is not escapism. It allows you to appreciate the positives even in a negative situation. It ensures that you don’t become overwhelmed with the situation as all bad situations always improve. How lovely is it to laugh and have pleasure in seeing family whilst not losing sight of the occasion that brings you together. As your Gran said ” it is what it is ” so celebrate the positives – even the departed would not want everybody to be miserable. ps. not quite 60 only 57 🙂

    • Tee hee Jem, that age bit was poetic licence – somehow 57 didn’t flow quite as well as the more general ‘sixties’ 🙂 (Did I get out of that one?!). Funny you pick up on that because I actually did have to pause for a few minutes when I was writing to think that if Jude was born in ’47 (if I remember correctly) and Mum was born in ’49, and that you must be quite a few years younger than them… anyway, your devilishly good looks aren’t bound by mere numbers 🙂

      I love your response. Thank you. It was very special seeing you all. Love to Teri too xxx

  3. Julia Pratten says:

    Nicci, your writing is so beautiful. Compared to you and Jami, I feel like English is my second language when trying to express myself! I wish I could apply your mindfulness, as that in itself is no easy feat … as long as you return from it, it’s merely a temporary reprieve, particularly in situations that we cannot change because yes, it IS what it is … xxx

    • Jules, sweetie, thank you! You express yourself beautifully. You are totally right. I guess the fact that we can check in and out of mindfulness, as with the moment, is a blessing indeed. Lots of love x x x

  4. Craig says:

    Hey Nicci – your comments resonated with me. I agree with Jeremy (the 57 year old guy) to the extent that he is saying that situations, and life in general, are complex. They consist of a variety of elements and perspectives. Perhaps being mindful (as you were) is not so much about escaping, but about experiencing many facets of your existence in one situation as opposed to just one. You were certainly alive to the outpouring of grief and the pain being felt by all of us and your being mindful of other things did not seem to detract from your awareness of the pain and grief. But that is not all there was and is. In fact, there was a fair amount of humour in the stories about my mom. Being mindful seems to offer you a fuller, richer experience of, and perspective on, your life as you move through it.

    • Craig my darling, you are so right about the humour. In fact I am just about to tag you in a post on Facebook that should bring a smile to your, Jo, Jem, Teri and Tarsha’s faces… watch this space. You are so right. I guess that, like many of us, I find the humour so much easier to handle and experience fully than the painful moments – which is exactly where I find myself ‘escaping’ to mindfulness. That said, it definitely can work both ways – in the midst of your beautifully poignant and affectionate anecdotes about the wooden spoon during your tribute, and in the midst of our guffawing at the tea afterwards, there were still these very conscious moments of taking stock of the occasion and the reason we were all there. Mum still said to me, before we got to the funeral, that the bitter sweet thing about losing someone too young or too early, like your mum, is that it’s usually a wonderful opportunity to catch up with a lot of special people that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I guess it’s accepting that it is what it is, as they say, and taking the good with the bad, the smooth with the rough, the bitter with the sweet, and being aware of the connection between the present, the past and the future with acceptance, and without wishing it to be any different to what it is. Sjoe, that’s going to keep me busy for the next hundred years! Love to you all. Now go and check your Facebook… xxx

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