Thursday, January 19, 2012

Left Hand: Fully Intact, Partial Success.

This week’s mindfulness challenge has been a learning experience to say the least… I am functionally a child with my left hand, as I have been brutally and constantly reminded. And reminded, and reminded and reminded. I feel like I’ve been reminded so many times this week that I have zero chance of survival without my right hand that I might take out a separate insurance policy on it. It’s been hard to live as a lefty. For instance, as I type this blog post, I am only typing about 20 words per minute compared to my usual 70. I have to constantly spur my hands on and remind my left thumb to kindly hit the space bar, please… (sometimes not so kindly) a function my right thumb is usually encouraged to do automatically for me. At the same time, since I’m concentrating so hard to space, the rest of my left hand stops working to help me pay attention. My left index finger seems to be so distracted that - not only can it not find the ‘b’ key, it has even stepped up a few times and hit the space bar on it’s own, as if it’s so exasperated waiting for my stumpy thumb that it steals the synapse from my brain and performs the task. Great, I have an impatient limb, what’s next? In fact, the space bar has been the most frustrating part of my current mindfulness task, but I don’t see this frustration as a detriment to my success because of a very strange shift in my consciousness. Instead of wanting to give up because I’m frustrated by this infernal lack of dexterity, I find myself turning to my thoughts instead… What specifically is frustrating me this second? Is it my lack of patience? What will an extra 10 minutes typing this blog cost me? Is it the clumsiness and lack of control? There isn’t a prize for the most graceful typing performed on this airplane. I have a strange sense of calm as I ask my mind these questions, as I observe the emotion and related thoughts, and instead of taking action… keep plugging away at the space bar with my left thumb. Remarkable.

I’ve seen some other tiny changes in the parlor of my mind, where all the thoughts hang out and normally get ignored while I zone out and go on vacation from the work of operating a human body… All week as I’ve eaten (sometimes with senior leaders in my company snickering at me) with my left hand, the self-consciousness of being awkward has been replaced with marveling at how my left hand – seemingly useless – has adapted to the work and constantly improved. I’m less aware of my perception of others while I perform these tasks and instead intrigued by examining and seeing them as they happen. Consequently, while exploring the angles of the left-handed spoon approach, I have been clumsy enough to drop pea soup all over my white blouse (can’t tell you the last time that happened) and then struggle to operate a tide pen to treat the stain.

It hasn’t all been frustration and spilled food, however… I have become a much better lefthanded mouse-operator. I’ve caught myself a few times reaching for a pen with my left hand because it was close, and then keeping the pen in that hand. It’s because of this increasing ease that I’m glad it’s time to move on to the next challenge. The point of this exercise was to access the perspective of beginner’s mind, one where no muscle memory or practiced routine could allow your mind to check out. If I use the left hand enough that it assimilates to the routine, I’ve gained the use of my previously worthless hand, but must find something else to focus my attention in the pursuit of mindfulness.

Surprisingly, with my left hand, I create more pleasing drawings. It could be the extra cognition I’m giving the task, or perhaps that the right hemisphere houses the creativity centers of the brain and plugs them directly into your reach… or maybe it’s the light touch and active listening my hand does in concert with the pencil. I don’t care why.

My handwriting, however, has been compared to both that of a first grader and a serial killer. In this example, I rewrote my notes with my right hand to compare, and was pretty surprised to see some similarities. It’s as if the left hand is a 6-year-old me (I am not a serial killer). A 'me' I have the opportunity to cultivate and exercise. I sure am glad I gave myself the opportunity.

This week's challenge is called 'Leave No Trace'. I have to choose a room in my house, I chose the kitchen, and for the whole week, leave it exactly the same as it was before I arrived. All things put away, only food smells and memories to remind me I was there. I think it will be useful, there are a hundred times a week it seems that I could make it all the way to the dishwasher with something but I leave it on the counter or in the sink instead. I'm looking forward to having clean counters. Also, I think it will give me a chance to appreciate the tiny things in my house that allow me to live my life this way.. each pair of chopsticks has a role, each surface should be respected, and even the garbage has a place in my life that I should appreciate. I'll examine them all.
Happy mindfulness. And Thursday & stuff.

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