“Let it go. Let it go it. Let it go.” Not lyrics to a popular song, but advice given by a friend to his wife, my husband and me, all three victims of insomnia. Over dinner last week, we were talking about how to get back to sleep when you awaken at four a.m. and your mind gets ready to launch your day, even though you’re hours short of enough sleep.
Our friend was alluding to “mindfulness,” or staying focused on what we’re doing now, not to what we did yesterday or are going to do tomorrow. Researchers tout mindfulness as the key to reducing stress and emotional suffering, improving job performance, memory, our ability to learn, combatting obesity, even getting a good night’s sleep.
“Let it go.” Easy to say, hard to do. People spend “up to fifty percent of their time in their heads” thinking about the past or the future, which dailygood.org says is “a proven contributing factor to our unhappiness.”
We all have “monkey minds” — restless, uncontrollable, working overtime like a tongue on a troublesome tooth — but there are ways to tame them.
“5 ways to bring mindfulness into everyday life,” a piece from Headspace.com offers tips to help us pay attention when we’re engaged in everyday activities: taking a shower, brushing our teeth, washing dishes, commuting, and standing in line.
I’m going to work on the first two on the list because I don’t do them mindfully. I have been known to scrub my body with hair conditioner, add an extra helping of shampoo long after I’d finished shampooing, and turn off the water while I’m still soapy. While holding an electric toothbrush and daydreaming, I’ve let the bleach-marinated toothpaste dribble down my front and ruin several blouses.
Being mindful about washing the dishes is not so great a challenge as paying close attention to what you pour into the detergent reservoir in the dishwasher. Having once created an hours-long, late-evening drama involving uncontainable soapsuds oozing from my dishwasher, I’m aware of the importance of mindfulness while standing over the kitchen sink.
I’m ignoring the last two tips. Most of the time I avoid standing in lines, and I have no commute. On the other hand, I have driven long distances without having any idea how I got there.
The idea behind all of these suggestions is to turn yourself into an observer of your thoughts, emotions, sensory experiences. No need to blame yourself when you succumb to distractions, because they are guaranteed to arise and you will follow them. If telling yourself to “Let it go” doesn’t do the trick, a short slap to the side of your head, a finger flick to the wrist or a scream — not with toothpaste in your mouth — should bring your attention back to where it belongs.
I recently read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It’s a bit of a tough slog — he’s not an animated writer — but nevertheless I think it did help me learn how to slow down and quiet my monkey mind.