Thoughtful v Mindful

I have just returned from a walk on which I had a very simple insight: I try awfully hard (and unsuccessfully) to be Mindful, but I have sort of lost Thoughtfulness in the shuffle. They are both very important to the kind of life I want to live, as my attempts to be Buddha, Jesus, Socrates, etc. daily demonstrate, but these days, I am more just a reactive, emotionally flooded disaster than a sage or holy person.

Never one to quote the dictionary, I will give my take on the difference between these two words:

A Thoughtful person considers a matter carefully, with reason leading the way.
A Mindful person is aware of each thought, feeling, and sensation present in any given moment.

Thoughtfulness is geared a little more toward action, and Mindfulness toward observation.

To me, there is also a matter of degree – thoughtfulness, while still a challenge, seems a lot more in reach than mindfulness. Thoughtfulness involves bringing one part of yourself to bear on one aspect of your existence. I have “done” thoughtfulness up right many hundreds of times; mindfulness maybe a handful. My focus has been a lot on the latter recently, but it has occurred to me that perhaps I should aim a little lower and at least try to be a little more thoughtful from time to time. I have my hands plenty full with that, without trying to achieve enlightenment or Nirvana or even a lesser goal like serenity.

Observe: I went out for a walk this evening when a storm was imminent. I was angry at having been cooped up all day doing my repetitive household chores and repetitive thought patterns. Everyone here suggested I figure out an alternative but, out of pure reactivity, I insisted on leaving. My SEVEN-YEAR-OLD daughter gave me an umbrella on my way out the door.

Five minutes in, the heavens opened, and thousands of cold, sharp knives stabbed my back for the next forty minutes. It turns out that umbrella, in addition to being far too small to cover 90 percent of my body, also had a hole right in the middle of the top, so a Chinese-water-torture-style trickle ran down the middle of my face the whole time. While I’m glad I got a chance to clear my head, a little thoughtfulness may have been a good idea, and the walk postponed.

Now that I demonstrated to myself the need for more attention these matters by getting very cold and very wet, I think I may find keeping them in mind a little easier.


Closed Doors, Open Windows

This is a moment in my life when absolutely every door feels closed. Worse, I felt confident that I was onto some good things, but with a resounding crash, it has all fallen around my ears. Here is the dilemma: I understand that this is a time of life when new vistas may be opening up before me, and that I can’t see them at the moment. However, I feel like I have essentially been in this same place for years, and that my couple of directions of hope have led to dead ends, so really, are there going to be open windows? In the midst of pain and confusion, I want so much to believe in the next direction. The only real nugget of potential that I can see is that maybe these misadventures, too, will somehow have truly been part of the learning about what’s next, and that they weren’t dead ends after all. It’s just time to branch off now. This is what I will hope for, if not believe in, for the next few days as I puzzle out the future.


I have been wondering where my current brain-crushing migraine has “come from,” assuming it has some origin in the circumstances of my life. Maybe it doesn’t; maybe that’s not how it works, but I am never one to refrain from pondering anyway.

Sure, there are the same old problems, which I believe I have recounted in enough detail in other posts. (If you’re interested in hearing me complain, though, I am always happy to oblige!)  What’s new is that a change in my life that I have anticipated for a year has finally come to pass. Since my midlife crisis started two years ago, I have searched for a variety of ways to address that pain. One after the other of my ideas has not worked, and most have made things worse, but along the way I developed the theory that I needed to go back to work on a very part-time basis in order to alleviate the feelings of lack of fulfillment and accomplishment that can plague stay-at-home moms. The obvious go-to job was teaching in a community college setting again, since the hours away from home are few and I can do the additional work during the children’s sleep hours (and my own.) After a long delay and daily anticipation, I am now officially doing the job! I have reached the point I have been building up in my mind for a year as the answer to a host of problems. My husband often points out how I build things up a little too much, but I think I have outdone myself in this case, and the earth-shattering changes are nowhere to be seen. So far, things feel the same, only more stressful. Although it is early in the semester, I have the sinking feeling that I have merely traded some forms of stress for others. Here are the possible reasons, therefore, for my migraine during this first week of school:

1. I am sleeping less than ever so as to be prepared.

2. I still have four children who have not become any less needy.

3. I have to feel enormous shame and guilt every day when my babysitter sees the state of my house, a symbol of my daily failures.

4. I have to do all the same work as I always did around here, plus new work now that always has an urgent deadline.

5. I am answerable to even more people.

Lest you start weeping at the hopelessness of it all, I am going to point out some very good things that have already happened, that will come even more to the fore as time goes on, I’ll wager:

1. I am working with other professionals, none of whom have talked about poop so far.

2. I am thinking new kinds of thoughts and giving my brain a new kind of workout.

3. I am going to be helping people who really need my help.

4. I am avoiding the horrible after-school period here twice a week.

5. I get to drive alone in the car with music turned way up for an hour twice a week.

Look! There are five reasons on both sides of the issue! Things are looking up already. I’m thinking this migraine is going to clear up in no time.

Back and Forth and Back

I’ve decided that it’s high time to get back to William Blake, my old friend. So many things from my 20s, like Blake, are seeming important again in my 40s. David Whyte, on his excellent CD about mid-life crisis, says, “You could do worse than to read poetry every day.” What happened to poetry in my life? I’ve always been a terrible poet, but I’ve always been a great appreciator . . . except for the last umpteen years, when so much that I considered “me” has disappeared in service of the “strategic mind.” Everything I read and talk about with dear friends and journal about now seems to suggest that rediscovering these things from the past is part of what will help me/one emerge from a mid-life crisis. It’s not just that you struggle to get out of the pain of this radical reassessment, but that you find the parts of you that have been starving during the working and child-bearing years and bring them back into the “conversation,” as David Whyte would say. Then you can travel forward again with more pieces of you intact than ever before. So William Blake, who was so much a part of my young adulthood, needs to come with me during this phase of the journey too, I think. I feel like I have at least twice the experience to bring to my reading this time, and he will mean all the more.