Such a buzzword.
And nearly as partisan as politics.
On the one side, you have the people touting its long list of reputed benefits such as lower blood pressure, improved sleep, and a better sex life.
On the other you have the backlashers, who argue that only people without problems would even care to be mindful.
Mindfulness can also get complicated.
And I like to keep things simple.
So with that in mind, I’d like to share a nice little life hack I stumbled upon.
It only takes three minutes, and centers on this three-word mantra:
BE THE FLAMINGO.
No, not literally. I’m not asking you to grow pink feathers and a long neck. The essence of a flamingo will suffice.
But before moving forward, a look back.
When I was nine, I remember hearing my grandmother had fallen. Everyone else in the room gasped and their eyes bugged out, so I figured she must have fallen off something really high – like a cliff, or the Empire State Building. I didn’t understand that as we age, our bones lose density, and our equilibrium suffers.
Since that day, I’ve heard similar declarations many times over. He fell. She fell. Followed by the same somber acknowledgement.
When we’re young, we don’t really practice balance. We just have it. And unless you’re one of The Flying Wallendas, your body probably doesn’t get much of an opportunity to react to imbalance.
So I decided to do something about that.
I began standing on one leg.
One minute on the left.
One minute on the right.
As I was doing this, I noticed my reflection in the window. With one leg tucked up and the other pressed assuredly on the carpet, I looked like a flamingo.
I did this every morning.
It was easy.
So I added a key wrinkle.
Now, at the end of the minute, my foot still in the air, I’d close my eyes.
The first few times, I lost my bearings immediately. But before long, the amount of time I was able to balance on one leg began to increase.
With closed eyes, it was now far harder to remain still. I’d often have to twist and lean, my body and arms jerking about. I looked more like a surfer in a Gidget movie than I did a flamingo.
But that was the point.
I was now truly challenging myself, and in the process, I was doing what I had set out to do. I was improving my balance.
Then something funny happened.
My times began to worsen.
Since I’d become better at balancing, I no longer had to devote my entire attention to the task, which meant my mind could wander. It was as if my thoughts were leaving my head and traveling someplace else.
I was also competing with myself, trying each time out to best my previous record. Which meant I was now feeling pressure to perform. I’d hear that critical voice inside my head – the one tied to my fear of failing.
Or should I say fear of falling.
So I returned to basics.
It’s only three minutes, I said as I took a deep breath, lifted one leg, and imagined a flamingo standing peacefully in the water.
I stopped judging myself. Whether I was able to stand with my eyes closed for one second or one minute, it didn’t matter. It was all part of a larger process.
That was the turning point.
It didn’t mean there weren’t days where I’d lose my balance almost immediately. There were. But there’d also be days where I’d manage to find a groove and lock into a level of balance that felt almost Matrix-like in its fluidity.
And now that I was no longer critical of myself, I actually welcomed distractions while I practiced. The mail arriving. The phone ringing. My wife playfully punching me in the stomach while telling me I looked ridiculous.
That’s how it went for the first year.
Three minutes every day balancing on one leg.
Three minutes every day being the flamingo.
That was it.
Or so I thought.
Then came the second turning point.
I had awakened in the middle of the night – my mind racing and my forehead drenched in sweat from a dream I couldn’t quite remember.
My head continued to spin as I thought about all sorts of things: falling behind in my writing, bills, a recently-discovered leak in the roof.
My first instinct was to throw the covers off and get out of bed, but as I was doing so, I caught myself. Instead of frantically chasing after my thoughts, I reeled them back in. I loosened my clenched fists and straightened my legs. I was amazed by how quickly my racing heart slowed and my breath normalized, and delighted when I realized why.
I was the flamingo.
I didn’t have to be standing on one leg.
I could be the flamingo anywhere!
At Costco when that selfish wiener with seventeen million items in their cart races to beat me to the checkout line when all I’m carrying is a bottle of Maker’s Mark and some dental floss.
In my quest for physical balance, I’d improved my emotional balance.
And become more mindful in the process.
So give it a shot, won’t you?
Be more mindful.
BE THE FLAMINGO.
It’s a far cry from total consciousness.
But a satisfying step along on the pathway.
That’s all I have, but before I go, let me leave you with one last morsel to chew on:
What do flamingos do when they want to be more mindful?