Recently a friend asked how I was doing, and as I contemplated my answer I realized that all areas of my life feel like they are at max volume right now. My brain feels absolutely full. Can you relate?
I see it when I communicate with others. Sometimes I’ll be telling a story and right in the middle I’ll forget why I was sharing it! Or I’ll be speaking a sentence and searching for a word that I know is in my brain, but it just won’t surface. I’m slow to process questions and frequently forgetful.
I see it when I interact with my kids. I have 4 kids, and they like to talk to me at the same time. I used to be able to listen to two at once and get the gist of what each one was saying. Now I can’t even single out one voice to listen to when more than one person is talking!
I see it in my (in)ability to multi-task. I used to plan my route through the house, stopping here and there to put something away or help a kid. Now I walk into a room and can’t even remember why I went there! When there are too many requests from my kids, I have to tell one of them, “Hold that thought, I have too many things in my brain right now and I need to get some of them out before I can help you.”
It has been a tough and long stretch of a full brain. I know a lot of it has to do with the events in our country and world right now. That’s sure taking up a lot of mental space! I know it is also attributed to being in the thick of it raising young kids. Oh, and the sleep deprivation too!
But fascinatingly, even when I am alone it seems that the volume is still way up in my head. The other night I sat at my computer, putting in a little work in the late evening before bed. The windows were open and I was typing away, thoughts about work and life flying through my brain. Suddenly it was as if my ears turned on and I heard the outside evening noises. The breeze in the trees. The crickets. Peace.
It was startling, and I stopped typing immediately and gazed at the open window. I’m sure the sounds were audible to me the whole time, but my brain was so full of other things that I didn’t even hear them.
I’ve been processing that event in the days since, realizing that the noise in my brain is causing me to miss out on the beauty of the moments at hand. I think it’s those very moments, and the peace and calm they can bring, that is the antidote to my noisy brain.
As life rolls along at such a swift pace (especially with young kids!), I wish there was a simple, quick fix for this overload. I’ve certainly been searching for one. Should I spend more time intentionally away from my phone? Should I limit social media or stop using it entirely? Should I be out in nature more? Should I find more time for a relaxing hobby? Should I schedule time for solitude?
All of these options are helpful, I’m sure, but I think rather than change something externally, I need to change something internally. Finding calm in my mind shouldn’t be dependent upon my circumstances.
I want to work on actively pushing the crowding thoughts out of my brain and making space for recognizing the gifts of the moment at hand. I had a chance to practice this when I was putting our baby down for his nap recently. He fell asleep in my arms and I lingered in the rocking chair with him. I watched how the soft daylight from the window touched his forehead and nose, then disappeared and reappeared again as we rocked. I spent some time just watching that transformation and gazing on his sweet face.
I activated my ears and started to tune in to what I was hearing. I heard the fan in the room first, providing some white noise. I heard rain drumming on the roof. I listened to those two sounds for awhile and then realized there was another sound in the room I had tuned out. It was the most important sound – my son’s sleepy exhale with each breath he took. How did I miss that sound at first?
It was hard work slowing my brain down to be present in the moment. It seemed that the thoughts I shoved aside only stayed there for moments and then came charging back in. I kept pushing them away though, and focused on my senses. I looked out the window and watched the rain spill over the gutters. “I really need to clean those,” I thought. Then deliberately pushed that thought aside. It was not the time to add to the to-do list! Instead, I focused on the beauty of the rain coming over the gutters in dashed lines, falling down to the ground in white-gray streaks.
I turned my attention to touch. What was I feeling? I decided to think about all the places on my body that were touching my son. I noticed the feel of his head on my arm first, and his elbow and wrist pushed into my belly. I felt his body resting a little on my legs. One of my arms was wrapped around him, my wrist and hand coming around his little belly. I felt my other hand supporting his bottom, my fingers against the bumpy elastic waist of his pants. I felt the weight of him in my arms, relaxed and perfectly content.
What a gift to be present in that moment and bring the world back to small again.
Moving forward, I hope to be more aware of when my brain feels too full and life too big, and use that awareness to dial it back to the things happening immediately around me. Maybe mindfulness is the antidote to a full mind.