How puzzles taught me mindfulness and helped me re-connect with my inner child
A few years back I found myself hitting rock-bottom. Actually, it doesn’t qualify as a hit. Rather it was a five-year-long walk towards a complete breakdown of my body, soul, and mind.
The wrack in my ship was caused by a great weight loss, after +10 years of constant bullying, crossing path with my compulsive perfectionist-personality during law school (shout out to my Libra moon, Virgo South Node in 3rd house)
This new-found model-body-be-and-look-perfect-every-damn-day was fueled with weekly cocktails at the clubs, daily anxiety, love-troubles, self-doubt, and great confusion. Of course, one would say, it gave birth to an eating disorder. A severe one.
Before mindfulness comes mind-full-ness
Come 2013 the depressive eating disorder finally escalated to the levels of deathly fueled by the stress from eating way too little, exercising way too much (day and night!) and a mind full of a boozing mixture consisting of an overdose of self-hating and self-neglecting thoughts.
As I was hospitalized at my parents’ house, unable nor allowed to do much at all (not even vacuum cleaning), I was forced to be with myself and my thoughts. My shadows. My demons. Forced to be with the person I hated and feared the most: Myself!
No surprise, this was like living in hell!
I used to either drink, binge, purge, shop and/or workout to run away from my thoughts and work-my-way-out of depression and moody days. This was my drug; the fix that gave me a sense of zen until the next mind game rolled up. But clearly, my body now neglected that strategy like a 4-year-old having a supermarket-tantrum. Hence, as much as I dreaded it I knew deep inside I had to explore the newest ‘thang’: mindfulness.
When Mindfulness became a thing
On a global perspective, mindfulness started to get more attention in general, thus the web and magazines flooded with “The best strategies”, Oprah-challenges and recommendations from doctors on how to comprehend the ancient art of peace of mind.
At the mere look, all practices seemed pretty simple to incorporate and practice – I mean how difficult can it be to just sit or lay down and relax, focusing on something and not think of anything else?
Mindfulness may be simple, but definitely NOT always EASY to learn! On my darkest days and coldest nights, I would venture so far down a rabbit hole dug with my bare, raw, self-victimization thoughts and judgemental believes, where my monkey-mind(s) would convince me, I was the missing piece to mindfulness myself!
The missing piece to mindfulness – Let your mind run free
“Marie, let your brain breathe. Your thoughts have permission to fly away. Give it to them”.
So was the words of one of my great mentors and friends, Hanna Dalsgaard.
Sure, my brain felt like it was about to burst like an air balloon. But whenever I tried to give my thoughts some much needed fresh air, waves of anxiety and panic rolled over me. All I wanted was to sprint to the kitchen, stuff my body with food with the only purpose to purge it again. To escape. To empty my head. To get out of my body and create some space inside.
Like an ant’s nest of self-flagellating, diminishing and self-shaming thoughts, where hundreds of little ants work together, my time spent trying to be mindful would only add to the massive pile of self-hate. Thoughts were indeed flying all over the place, and I was trying to catch them and put them into their right boxes.
I knew I needed to distract my mind whenever these thoughts invaded my brain and de-pressed my soul. But how? Unearthing the ants’nest was clearly not a good start.
What is mindfulness anyway?
It’s said there is a silver lining in any bad situation, and this is the lesson I got:
>>> Mindfulness is whatever works for you <<<
Mindfulness is when you lose yourself (rather let yourself loose) in time and space, clear of any distracting thoughts. You just are… Purely present in the now… Emerged and wrapped up in the arms of the moment, without judging the experience.
Some find being in the kitchen, cooking or baking to be their sweet spot (pun intended!); I tried this myself. Only problem; food was still among my enemies. Often a peanut butter-flavored one! Many find it in listening to or playing music, painting or going fishing.
For others, it is playing and cuddling with their dog or children. Me? I hated our puppy because I felt like he got all the attention and made my inner child feel less worthy. And my ovaries struck due to endocrine havoc, hence kids where impossible to even create. Again not the right solutions.
Puzzles: The missing piece to mindfulness
Then one day, my twin brother’s girlfriend gifted our mom with a new puzzle. Unlike standard jigsaw puzzles, this was way different though. The picture on the box was not the picture you would be puzzling! These tiny pieces would change my life.
“… Life isn’t about finding pieces of a puzzle,
it’s about creating and putting those exceptional pieces together…”
Glenn von Dekken
I was of course completely lost at first, but as the frame was pieced together and the picture came to life, so was my thoughts quieting like the audience at a tennis game. Each falling into their right places. New epiphanies came up, great revelations and old memories played among each other in my mind. But this time, I didn’t try to catch them. I was too caught up in the new discovered mind-body connection that finding and placing the pieces established inside.
Most importantly, I found ease and joy in the present moment. The childish joy I so badly had denied myself and my inner child to experience for years. I’d finally found the missing piece to mindfulness.
Getting started with mindfulness
Now, do please bear in mind, you don’t have to be in such tough conditions as I was, in order to benefit from mindfulness. Five years later, I still how to practice pausing my mind from time to time. Whenever stress creeps up on you or you find yourself caught in a mind loop, try turning your attention inwards. To get started with finding your sweet way to mindfulness, these are some prompts to ask yourself:
> What makes me forget my surroundings?
> What brings me so much joy that I am completely lost in the activity?
> What brought me joy as a child?
> Where do I feel most at peace, centered and calm?
> When was the last time I “lost” my self in something, and what did I do?
Mindfulness is available to us at every moment, whether through play, puzzles, meditations or body scans. It doesn’t have to be hours long to be effective. Simply taking a breather before responding to a message that upsets you, can help center yourself and prevent your monkey-mind to join the party.
There are many ways to start. Be experimental, non-judgemental and do whatever works for you!
As always, with love
1: Joao Tzanna, Unsplash
2: College, by kindinside.com – photos by Seth Macey & Tim Mossholder, Unsplash