I first heard of mindfulness as a practice in 2012, when an editor for New York Magazine’s The Cut asked me to try out a diet book written by a former monk. She sent me an advance copy of The Headspace Diet (now called The Headspace Guide to Mindful Eating), and I wrote what I thought was a funny stunt article about learning to grocery shop thoughtfully and enjoy cooking in the moment like I’m in a monastery kitchen—smell the food, think about where it came from, and eat slowly. Long story short, I never slowed down on the cheeseburgers and it never ran, but the author and Headspace founder, Andy Puddicombe, was in my purview a few months later when I began having trouble sleeping. I would wake up at 2 a.m. with a very busy mind. Because I didn’t want to depend on Ambien, I knew I would have to learn to wrangle my runaway thoughts. So I downloaded the Headspace app.
By sitting for 20 minutes every morning doing a (totally secular) guided meditation, I learned to practice mindfulness throughout the day—I am driving on El Camino Real, I am chopping carrots, I am washing my hands. That awareness aided in the meditation and soon, despite the fact that I was conducting an inner play-by-play, I was able to freeze the interior monologue when I needed to. In the same way that you hold your breath, it felt like I was holding my thoughts.
Puddicombe says restful sleep is actually just a byproduct of a restful mind. Not only was I able to sleep through the night, I noticed I was more patient in traffic and at the grocery store. I didn’t dig in my heels when things weren’t going my way, or when someone "moved my cheese." (Puddicombe says that "Resistance is the absence of acceptance." If you can realize you’re resisting something, it’s easier to let it go and move on.)
I took a few years off to deal with screaming newborns, but have recently come back to meditation. It has always been, er, on my mind. If after 6,500 minutes of meditating (the app counts for you) I think I’m a nicer person, then I’m probably also a better neighbor, partner, mother, coworker, and citizen. I’m a mindful San Diegan.
And if I’m more at peace, then what might San Diego and the world look like if we were all doing this? What might the 805 look like? That’s why I wanted to write about it.
"The Mindful San Diegan" covers where to start if you’re new (or skeptical), public places around town where you can meditate, local authors’ tips about practicing mindfulness, and a Q&A with the master himself, Deepak Chopra.
It’s quite a contrast with this month’s cover story, which profiles locals who are doing just about the most stressful, runaway-thought-inducing, can’t-unsee-that-image jobs out there. They are our heroes—a firefighter, a medical social worker, a special education teacher, and more. They do the dirty, emotional, frustrating work few could handle, and every day they choose to keep showing up for it.
Both features are a reminder that this is the time of year to be a little extra thoughtful—to the community around you, to the strong people who are making San Diego a better and brighter place, to yourself. And when the stressors of the season seem to be mounting, just take a deep breath.