A Year of Minding the Elephant

A couple of months ago, a yoga teacher/friend of mine, Kitty,  invited people to take a year long mindfulness journey using the book How to Train a Wild Elephant.  The book is filled with 53 simple mindfulness practices; each week a new chapter, a new practice.   I’ve already been practicing my own form of mindfulness through yoga, running and meditation, but that has been a very organic thing.  This seemed like it would be much more structured and deliberate, so I decided to give it a shot.

During Week One I had to use my non-dominant hand as often as possible.   That was fun.  I started to think a lot about habitual movements and muscle memory.  I also realized that I often take my hands  for granted.  They are amazing machines.  Remembering to stop and think and switch hands was difficult at first.  But it was a great exercise to get me into the mindful mindset.

Then came Week Two,  Leave No Trace.   As I moved through the day, I was to leave no trace of having been there.  I didn’t think this one would be as much fun.  How would I ever do that? With my family?  My kids blast through the house like a couple of speedboats, each leaving a wake of shoes, socks, papers, books, crumbs, toys, iPod chargers…  How would I get them to leave no trace?  And how would I stop leaving traces myself? In the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the car?  Have you seen my min-van?   It looks like we have been living in it, down by the river, for years.  This was not going to be easy.

The thought of leaving no trace anywhere I went overwhelmed me.  So I picked one room. Our dining room. It’s a very busy room.  We eat at the table every single night.  We enter this room through the back door, and drop things,everywhere.  Shoes come off and get pushed to the corner, papers cover the table and counter, jackets get hung over the chairs etc…

I cleared all of the surfaces and emptied the room of everything except the table, chairs and rug.  Then I got the family together in the room.   I told them that we were going to play a game called Leave No Trace.    For one week only, we would try to keep this room exactly as it was.  We would still use it, enjoy it, make messes.  But the difference would be that when we left it there would be no trace that we were ever there.  None at all. None.

On Day One when I was ready to go up to bed, I looked at the room and breathed deeply…. It was still empty.   And I really like empty space!   I was pleasantly surprised, and I hoped we could get through another day of No Trace.  But I highly doubted it.

On Day Two the girls cleaned their room.  Without being told!  I couldn’t believe it.     On Day Three, I somehow found myself outside, cleaning and vacuuming the van!  

Everywhere we went, we were mindful of cleaning up after ourselves. I began to see how a little bit of mindfulness can go a long, long way. One room can turn into an entire house, and even spill out into the driveway. One person’s mindfulness can spread to other people.

As with most things, the novelty of Leave No Trace has worn off.  The girls’ room and the basement are once again littered with Barbie dolls and books and electronic devices.   Occasionally I give them a gentle reminder by saying “Leave No Trace, remember?”  and they will clean up the mess with only minor protest.

Even so,  Week Two was a huge success in my mind.     Here we are in Week Eight, and as I look into my dining room now  it is still neat and clean, and empty!  And that is nothing but a good thing.

This week’s practice is Gratitude at the End of the Day.  Before I go to bed each night,  I am to think of five things for which I am grateful.  Last night, as I turned out the light and got ready to go upstairs, that list included my perfectly clean dining room,   and Kitty’s invitation to be a part of this experiment.

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