Silence. Do you need it? Do you crave it? Is it as elusive as Binax tests at CVS? If so, Rebecca Pacheco has written the book for you: “Still Life: The Myths and Magic of Mindful Living.’’
If the title conjures images of deep breathing atop a mountain at sunrise surrounded by cute goats, stop rolling your eyes. Pacheco, a yoga and meditation teacher, is known throughout Boston and beyond as a practitioner for the rest of us: a mom herself who understands that quiet moments are snatched and who designs her practice around reality.
Her book breaks down the myths around meditation, explaining clearly what it won’t do for your life. For example, it will not: fix you or make everything around you OK. She also levels with you about how meditation works: It’s not about stopping your racing thoughts, silencing your mind, and carving out tons of time for deep breathing in a candlelit room.
This is a refreshing take, because wellness culture can be so detached from reality. While some of us are just barely holding it together as we ride out COVID, others are apparently jarring pickles, cultivating lush homestead oases, and perfecting a serene deep-breathing aesthetic that seems wholly unattainable. This is called toxic positivity, and it’s alienating for people who just want five minutes of peace in between day care pickup and dinner.
“Wellness culture and the wellness industrial complex is selling a lot of good things, but ultimately it’s selling things. It had to sell stuff that people want to buy, hear, and attach themselves to. The message of ‘meditation is not to fix you’ is not a sexy message,’’ Pacheco admits. “The message that life is hard is not glossy and sellable and digestible. We all want something to fix us to make life easier.’’
Now isn’t the time for such things, she says. Mindfulness isn’t about self-improvement, eating better, downloading an app to streamline your life, cleaning your closets, or sharpening your mind. Instead, mindfulness is simple self-acceptance.
“We need [people] who can find a sense of inner stillness no matter what chaos is happening around them,’’ she says.
In that spirit, here are some of her small, free, attainable ideas for snatching that stillness wherever you can find it.
Reduce your expectations. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that can happen anywhere — while you’re waiting for the light to change or standing in line at Trader Joe’s. The key is to focus on the present moment.
“I think parents right now would benefit from broadening the definition,’’ she says. “It’s not five hours of pretending we’re a blissful monk on a mountaintop with a blank mind.’’
Instead, it’s just a pause.
Connect with other people, however feels right. “No matter what we’re feeling in a given moment, someone else is or has felt something similar at that very same moment. Find the parents and people with whom you can be unfiltered,’’ she says. “Let them show up for you. We don’t meditate to get good at sitting in the dark with our eyes closed, not talking to people.’’
Remove barriers. “It’s a bit like writing this way: the conditions will rarely be perfect! Get creative. Find what works for you. Start small. Be consistent,’’ she says.
Spend time in nature. “It moves at the pace of the present moment. Even looking at greenspace can be therapeutic. In a pinch, repotting houseplants or buying yourself flowers will do,’’ she says.
Come back to your senses. “We all already possess these essential tools of mindfulness: taste, smell, touch, sight, sound. Tap into them when you feel overwhelmed,’’ like inhaling a brewing pot of coffee or lighting a candle before logging onto Zoom.
Rekindle a creative outlet. Writing, knitting, baking bread, doodling, coloring, who cares? “It doesn’t matter what it is, only that your mind becomes immersed in the task and can relax,’’ she says.
Shift from critic to observer. Instead of critiquing yourself and then suppressing it — for letting your roots go white or your rec room get filthy — practice simple observation. Think of it like parenting: If your kid is having a tantrum, do you abandon them? You might wish you could, but you don’t. You ride it out. Give yourself the same courtesy.
“We don’t abandon our kids, but we abandon ourselves all the time: We say, ‘That part of me is so unattractive or unappealing.’ We just try to hide it. Meditation is the equivalent of parenting your own mind, sitting with yourself, and saying, ‘Wow. This is hard. But I’m going to sit with it and breathe.’’’
On that note: Just breathe. It’s free, it’s essential, and anybody can do it. “If you can breathe, you can meditate, we like to say,’’ she says. Even doing a five-count inhale and exhale at the bus stop works.
Most of all, remember: You don’t need to buy new Lululemon leggings, enroll in a 30-day transformative yoga class, or commit to a brand-new life aesthetic to nudge yourself toward awareness, stillness, and simplicity.
As Pacheco writes in the book: “Mindfulness says, ‘You’re already enough as you are, right now.’ ’’
Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.