Yesterday I was doing something I do fairly regularly — I was mowing the lawns at my home. Now I wouldn’t normally share my enthusiasm for doing this so-called tedious, hot little ‘house chore’ and I think most people do probably see it that way. Unless of course, you pay someone else to do it. But in general it’s a practical chore you just need to do in the aim of maintaining your property. Or is it?
While considering this to be a rather boring article topic for the reader, I did a google search using the words mindful mowing. Most links came up as business names, with a few people out there mentioning the activity for them as a mindful experience. And that was great!
So this is not a piece about how mowing the lawn should be done in the practical sense, but how doing any activity that feels just like another chore, can really be a perspective-shifting and meaningful experience — as well as a great physical exercise.
Sometimes for me, I need to self-talk myself into working the lawns and the gardens given the sweaty job that it is. I often go about checking the heat temps outside, checking that the area isn’t wet and muddy, and wondering if it will rain so I can get out of it — Oh’ just for another day I say! But alas the grass still grows depending on the amount of weeds, about a centimeter per day — no matter how I try to avoid it.
All of this ‘processing’ in my mind knows deep down the ‘chore’ just needs to get done regardless of my mind chatter. And while this ticking over goes on and on in my mind, I’m pretty much doing two things — working myself up to it, and working myself out of it. But as I begin to conjure up the motivation to get going, to put the lever into gear, adjust the height, check the petrol and pull that starter line up with gusto, I can hear myself thinking — right you’re off so just keep pushing forwards!
Lucky for me I don’t have huge areas to mow now days. But about ten years ago I had a very large backyard which included a horse paddock leading down to the Bremer River — the river that leads into the Brisbane River. While living at that old property I had ended a relationship with my then Amazonian (Peruvian) partner who loved her horses and lush, spacious grassy land. Hence the need for a horse paddock and small stable attached to the property.
While I took the move to walk on with life I bought a new mower and decided to mow the top section of the horse paddock where it was flat. On a hot summer morning I began to feel some tension in my chest and in my arms and my mind was racing. It was something I needed to resolve for sure, so to distract me for the time being, I took the new mower out for a spin!
I was fused to aspects of the separation while attempting to make sense of things I thought at the time. I soon realized how angry I had been — not to have noticed and identified what I had been feeling and choices I had been making. To be brief, I ran that mower up and back using the fuel of my anger to push and power on. But before I knew it I had mowed a large section which in hindsight was a difficult thing to have done — it was really a job for a ride on mower, or for someone with better equipment to do it for me!
I recall I asked myself, ‘wow where the hell did all my energy come from? I don’t know, but I do know I was not present. I simply did not notice what I was doing while I was doing it. I wasn’t paying attention — I didn’t notice how far I had driven the mower through the longish grass— I didn’t notice the area around me, whether there were birds, a breeze, whether I had grass all over me, nor if I could sense the smell of the fresh cut grass. Whether there were any other sounds I could hear other than that of the mower’s engine — I didn’t notice the thoughts in my mind and I didn’t notice what I was feeling; except that I was damn angry.
Mindfulness is all-ago in this time of human psychological evolution. As I am now a practicing ACT Practitioner I can reflect back on that time as it was occurring in the here-and-now. I am able to picture me as a woman plowing like a mad woman, and indeed that is what I was experiencing —a mad mowing exercise!
But thankfully that particular memory led me to become more mindful when doing chores and the like. And because I hadn’t taken the time to be open and curious on how I could use such an activity to heal and come out the other side of an unhappy time, I thought about how I could make full contact in the present moments by doing something I now enjoy, mindful mowing.
So being mindful in practice — can be an art and a pleasure when doing any type of activity from drinking a glass of water to driving your car. And evidence has shown that it is one experience in helping to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and beginning the journey to assisting with depression. It isn’t a method of avoidance, nor a distraction just like it was during my mowing activity above. It is more about mindful centering.
Dr Russ Harris in Australia writes that practicing mindfulness helps:
to be fully present, here and now
to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely
to become aware of what you’re avoiding
to become more connected to yourself, to others and to the world around you
to become less judgmental
to increase self-awareness
to become less disturbed by and less reactive to unpleasant experiences
to learn the distinction between you and your thoughts
to have more direct contact with the world, rather than living through your thoughts
to learn that everything changes; that thoughts and feelings come and go like the weather
to have more balance, less emotional volatility
to experience more calm and peacefulness
to develop self-acceptance and self-compassion
The mindful activity itself can be achieved with your willingness to be fully present in most situations — to allow for painful feelings, memories, thoughts and discomfort to flow through you while you still go about your daily routines. You do need to give yourself permission to do so.
Obviously we cannot be mindful in every single thing we do — unless we are a practicing Buddhist Monk. But if we are living life on “the daily treadmill” where we don’t allow ourselves to slow down, pace ourselves, notice and observe — to see, hear, breath, touch, smell and to be with ourselves in the moment, then we have little chance of turning a discomforting life experience into one of meaning, purpose and healing.