By Kellie Schorr
All readers have a literary version of their “first crush”—a muse of sorts.
It’s the character who inspires you, or makes you laugh and love in ways you never thought possible, or somehow says the exact words you needed to hear. You cry when they cry, you cheer when they win, and you hate everyone in the book who gets in their way with the heat of a thousand suns.
You want to help them, protect them, and sometimes—depending on where you are in life—you want to be them.
My first muse was Melanie Hamilton, the undefeatable, always kind and reasonable, sister-in-law of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. The first time I read the novel I was too young to care about the inaccurate details of the Confederate Army or the anti-feminist implications of a protagonist who spends the entire Civil War chasing after a man when what she really needs is food, safety and the right to vote.
All I knew was that through Scarlett’s catty remarks, Ashley’s helpless Ashley-ness, and a way of life crumbling around her, Melanie kept up with her embroidery and managed never to lose the heart or charm of a true southern lady.
It’s said Margaret Mitchell wrote the different women to contrast the two worlds co-existing in the south at the time of the war.
Melanie, the graceful, mannered archetype of southern privilege, and Scarlett, the vengeful, opportunistic beauty taking advantage of free and slave alike to feed her desires. By the end, only one of those women would be alive. It wasn’t the one I liked.
Later in life I realized Melanie couldn’t have survived because she was always a fiction—a collection of things women “should be”—an imaginary, unattainable ideal. Scarlett, however, is very real. Just last week at the bakery she took all three donuts with sprinkles and left nothing but those nasty cake ones for the rest of us.
Melanie was too ethereal to be of any help to me. If I meditated several hours a day, followed a monastic path, lived in silence, ate more kale and significantly less candy bars, gave up my Netflix password and spent my spare time playing with kittens, I would still never achieve her level of grace. Truthfully, even in tenth grade, I would have given my last Snickers to hear her say just once, “Scarlett, darling, shut the hell up.”
It probably wasn’t Melanie Hamilton, but there’s likely someone in your life (fictional or factual) that you have looked at and said, “I want to be like that person. I want to be calm, collected, together, and oh, so, happy.”
The desire to “have it all together” drives us to look for examples and inspirations any place our eyes will focus. This impulse is what led a lot of us to mindfulness.
At some point each one of us saw a person, a book, a Pema Chodron meme, the “Chef’s Table” episode with Jeong Kwan, or that time on “The Simpsons” where Lisa meets Richard Gere and thought, “Everything about that is everything I want to be.
I want to be centered. I want to be confident. I want to hold my cool while the world around me is going up in flames. I want to stop my suffering. I want to stop my loved ones from suffering. I want to stop the world from suffering.” Then we got in a fight at the grocery store over the last decent avocado. Fiddle dee dee!
When I made a commitment to meditate, I knew this was the start of something big. I was going to subdue the inner Scarlett and free the long trapped Melanie of my heart by focusing on my breath for 10 minutes at a time. Then, I started meditating longer. I took classes. I read books. I practiced mindful eating. I learned mantras. I wore a mala. I put an altar in my living room. Still, I wasn’t becoming the change I wanted to see in the world. How could I be in this deep and still not see the other side?
That feeling when you wonder if you’re doing this whole mindfulness thing all wrong because you just aren’t becoming that person that you want to be—it’s real. What’s going on? What’s going wrong? Is it you?
No. Nooooo, it’s not you.
Wait. Yes, it is.
Well, it’s the two of you—the person you want to be, and the person you are trying not to be. Those two are like a clog in the drain. Mindfulness wasn’t really designed to deal with either of them. Mindfulness is about finding, embracing and awakening each day to the person that you are. That’s where you need to focus. Give those other two a bus ticket out of town.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice rooted in tradition and culture. As its popularity increases so does the hype. If the internet is to be believed (and everything on the internet is correct, right?) a 10 minute-a-day mindfulness practice can:
Lower your blood pressure
Reduce your stress
Help you lose weight
Empower you to stop drinking, smoking, reading the comments section
Make your marriage better
Make your kids brilliant
Make your neighbor’s less brilliant kids tolerable
Expand your consciousness
Keep you from falling down so much at yoga
Transform you into someone new
Destroy your perfectionism
Make your life perfect
Free you to be you
So many possibilities. Then the truth that rests inside you cuts through all the frosting and says, “That’s not what this is all about.” Mindfulness does have benefits and some of those things you desire can happen. However, that’s not why we come to the cushion.
When we show up with a list of plans for exactly what we are going to get, we are focusing on our desires, not the breath.
We start looking for what we expect to see instead of seeing what is in front of us. We pine for what we want. We dismiss all we have. Expectation is the direct cause of our disappointment.
A mindfulness practice does not make you who you want to become. It makes you aware of who you are. Right here. Right now. When you meet yourself, you can rejoice or you can change. There are interventions that will lead you on the road to recovery or discovery. Make no mistake. Connecting your thoughts with your heart and your reality is going take you to someplace new.
It just might not be where you planned.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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