This week has been different. In a few awesome and delightful ways:
Presence. And presents, everywhere! (I’ll explain that later.)
Not fearing my office. Walking in with a smile on my face.
What changed? On the surface, not much.
If you spied on me during my work day, you might see me scribbling in my notebooks a little bit more than usual, perhaps.
And if you could spy on me in my car, on my commute to and from work, you might see me
talking out loud like a crazy person telling my invisible secretary very important things using my expensive and invisible speaker phone.
Big shifts. Reconfiguring my internal landscape, on a continental scale.
But mainly what changed is this: I started practicing entry and exit rituals. And (just like Havi says!) it’s changed my life.
What it looks like
Mindfulness is one of those things — one of those sneaky guilty shoulds — that always confused me, because how exactly do you become more mindful? Is it more yoga classes? Therapy? Meditating? When? How? How often?
Ugh! Lots of resistance and confusion about this whole topic.
It’s also one of those things that’s easy enough to practice in tiny fits and starts: okay, this snack will be mindful. This walk. This bath. Easy enough!
But knitting it all together into a constantly-mindful-constantly-zen life?
Overwhelming. Scary. (Possibly also eye-rollingly lame! Even though I am not afraid of dorking out.)
Here’s how it actually happened for me:
At the mini-Rally last week, I was paying extra attention to how much fun I had, and how magically helpful it was to have done so much preparation. Writing the love letter and saying hello to the door. I’d prepared all my art supplies and my space in advance. Awesome, all around.
And then when I was Rallying I spent a lot of time with this thought: wow, how very unawesome my day job has been lately, in comparison. Avoiding everything, procrastinating, slumping over in my chair, endless clicking through internet distractions. No inspiration. No joy. It felt awful.
Epiphany: what if I tried to help out my workday self in the way I prepared for the mini-Rally?
Problem, meet solution. Brilliant!
So I started focusing on entry, preparing for my work week in a really big way. More than my usual hey-it’s-Sunday-let’s-do-the-laundry kind of preparation.
I dedicated part of my Very Personal Ad to it. Brainstormed.
I started the night before, doing all the things that would make Monday morning awesome: packing a delicious lunch, picking out my clothes, packing a bag.
I focused on what I could do to make it delightful, restful; building space for flow and joy instead of stuck and glum.
That was the first form of entry. And then: I started doing more entry. Turning everything into a moment of entry, and making it awesome. Consciously choosing to start the day my favorite way: a shower, a good breakfast, time to cuddle with my daughter.
And then more entry, in more playful and silly ways. Hello, commute. [This is me, talking in my car!] You are all about safety, ease, quickness, and transition. Goodbye house and neighborhood, hello work neighborhood and workplace.
More entry. Talking out loud in the car about how I want the day to go, and what tasks I needed to accomplish, and about obstacles and solutions. Using my brain instead of zoning out, unless I was zoning out on purpose, in a restful, non-zombie way.
More entry. Hello, office. I would not turn on my computer until I wrote out a tentative morning schedule (making sure to include: snacks! stretches! time to process!). I would not open my email program without a specific task or an intention: I am looking for any emergencies or things that can be deleted or perhaps I am going to respond to X’s email and that is all. Single-tasking, more generally.
Even more entry. Talking to my snacks (not even remotely the most wacky thing I do!).
And I just kept on going, and never stopped. Rather than figure out what the hell this confusing “constant mindfulness” might look like, I just started saying hello to everything.
But I also started saying goodbyes.
The goodbyes and the exiting turned out to be even more important, in some ways, than the hello. For me, starting something is not usually a big deal — it’s something of a blank slate. I’ll walk into a room, or start a task or a conversation, no big deal.
But once it’s over? I need to process all the stuff that was in it, before it can be done. Otherwise I carry it around with me, in subtle ways, and can trip me up. (Is this an introvert thing? It might be an introvert thing.)
Walking back to my office from a meeting? Say silent goodbyes to what was in it: connection, information, ideas about XYZ. Was I weirded out by B’s behavior? Why was whatisname talking so stridently about that one thing and ohhhh, a pattern, I didn’t like that because it reminded me of that past thing. (That past thing! Remember it? Wow, weird. Goodbye, past thing that came with me into that meeting without me noticing it until now!)
Other forms of goodbye and exit: turning off my computer monitors entirely if I’m not actively using them. Mindful finishing of tasks: washing the dishes directly after lunch, or deleting what I don’t need.
All this review is helpful for me especially because it’s when all the patterns pop out of the background noise, like magic. Poof! I suddenly notice much, much more.
Most importantly, exiting and review is all about the part Havi calls Exit as you wish to continue.
If I want to be calm and not rushed in the next thing I do, I have to make space for the review. Infuse it with calm and safety (it’s okay that I messed up that one thing at work), with attention and awareness. And with intent: I’m reviewing the day (or the snack or the email or the commute) with gentleness and compassion because those qualities are important for the thing I want to do next.
The unlikely, delightful effects
You might think that taking time for all this noticing would make the day choppy and disconnected. But instead, it’s made each day more smooth, because I am more grounded.
Each thing is more congruent with the next: I’m present going in, being in, and exiting. Or as present as I can manage. If I forget about the entries and exits? I focus on whatever exit or entrance I’m in, and go from there.
When this works (and of course, like anything, it’s not perfect), there are presents for me, everywhere! A kleenex in my pocket for my runny nose. Delicious lunches packed for work. Exactly enough ingredients to cook that recipe. Fewer messes around the house. Notes about things I can try or do, just when I find myself stuck.
I am constantly leaving myself presents. And I am constantly being reminded of presence, and getting better at being in it.
As Havi wrote — and yes! yes! a million times yes! it is exactly like this:
I do way less. But I do it more deeply.
And more gets done. Everything is slower, but the results are faster.
I’ve been practicing it since Sunday night, and now it’s Friday. And it has made my life infinitely, deeply, brilliantly better this week.
The mysterious next step
This thing I’m doing, this superpower of entries and exits, it’s an evolving thing. (Expecting it to remain the same: pattern! I noticed that and did some processing about its whys and wherefores on my Wednesday morning commute.) And I’m hoping that the evidence of why this is a good idea and especially why I should keep doing it is compelling enough that my monsters won’t interfere too much. I’ve felt lucky they’ve been pretty quiet this week, not talking too much about there’s no time! and what are you doing you weirdo? and you’re doing it wrong! and the whole motley company of familiar anxieties.
Here’s the mysterious next step, though: how does it work in the evenings? It’s true that after a day of this practice, when I didn’t yet know I could prepare for entering my evening in a good way, I went home and had a truly epically awful evening with my toddler. So I have some entry rituals and new patterns to make our evenings easier.
But there’s still not enough time to do the kind of processing I do during the day. Or at least — that is my perception right now.
So the next part of my practice is going to be figuring out how to make my evenings even more congruent with my days. More presents/presence, and more pattern-noticing.
Because this has been a powerful learning experience. I don’t want it to fade away. Deep down in my bones I have felt so much rightness this week, and it is not some kind of false zen-monk facade of smugness. It’s just plain good. And I want that feeling to stick around.
Thank you for reading as always, my friends. I wrestled with how to write about this, because the hows and the whys and the whats seemed so big and each piece is its own separate big thing to be explored and there were many false starts and oh — I just hope that, as with what I wrote about the mini-Rally, this mirroring of my process is useful or interesting to you in some way. Hope you can find all the superpowers you need for your day and your coming week, too. xo