The opposite of mindfulness

I read an article yesterday on the practice of Zen where being mindful means practicing awareness of every moment, every thought, everything you touch, every detail you notice. The article talks about how in Japanese culture during tea drinking rituals you take time to really notice the intricate designs on the cups from which you drink, and during the one week that cherry blossom trees bloom, people take time out to sit and really look at the blossoms. There’s also a new trend of moss watching where you go into forests and literally touch and look at moss.

For anyone stuck in the chaos of an eating disorder, mindfulness is a foreign world. An anorexic life tries to be ordered, regimented, strict, in line but it’s not—it’s mental, emotional, and spiritual chaos. I remember hating nature as an anorexic, like actually declaring, “I hate nature” and wearing sneakers to the beach and thick soled boots so I didn’t have to feel the ground beneath my feet, the earth, although I didn’t know that at the time. I was out of my mind, mindless.

And it’s almost an impossible state to try to communicate to others because it’s like a broken record that’s playing really loud and is very scratched and just keeps playing this annoying, scratchy, senseless sound that nobody else can relate to. I recently received an email from a young woman in the throes of anorexia, desperately seeking to start recovery who was so grateful for my book because she said it put words to what she was experiencing yet couldn’t communicate, even to herself.

It’s hard to put words to chaos because where do you begin?

But this article struck me because I’m at a point in my life where I’m looking back—I’m always looking back, to see how far I’ve come, but now there’s such a big gap between my past eating disordered life and my new one that the disorder just seems crazier and crazier as time goes by. Especially after doing the final, and I mean final, edit of my book for the hundredth time where I sat back after editing the final page and had only one word to sum up my earlier life as an anorexic: chaos.

It’s hard to live in a chaotic state. And it’s unfair to those you love and who love you because you are never present. You can’t be present when you’re mindless. When you’re going about your day on amped up autopilot paying attention to nothing other than the spiraling, colliding, chaotic thoughts in your head of what to eat and what not to eat. Because in that state nothing else matters and that’s the whole sad point.

Mindlessness is a defense. Against feelings. Against the world out there. Your internal world. Pain. Love. All of it. And it works. Unfortunately. That’s why it’s such a damn hard disorder to crack. As are all addictions. But you’re not going to reach a place of mindfulness until you work through all the feelings you want to avoid in the first place. That’s recovery, I’m afraid. It’s not pretty. It’s not fun. But it is rewarding. And it does eventually get a whole lot better than what you’re used to dealing with in an eating disordered life.

Today, literally today, I’m engaging in practices that help me be more mindful. I took an hour out of my work day to cycle to a yoga class so I could get on my mat and go inward. Quiet my mind. Quiet my thoughts. Sink into my body, into myself. I’m about to head out for an acupuncture session, which also stills the mind and turns your focus inward so you can relax into how you are feeling.

I’m noticing a call to mindfulness in my life in general lately (not surprising since I called it in, mindfully) where I’ve gotten two invitations to practice mindfulness and meditation in the next month at a zen retreat an hour away.

I look back on my anorexic life and remember a time when I couldn’t be with myself in any capacity for even one minute. When I was waiting tables and bartending seven days a week to escape myself, to escape having a single moment of quiet where all the discomfort in my being would surface in one tidal wave and I’d want to crawl out of my skin.

Now that I’m on the other side of the disorder looking back, I can honestly say that of all the things there are to “do” in the world: world travels, crazy adventures, social stuff…all the amazing things that make up life, I can honestly say going inside myself, inside my own mind, to a place of quiet, stillness and calm…is just as appealing and sometimes even more so.

It’s a place I never ever thought I’d want to visit let alone revisit.