I was walking one morning at twilight, a time when lawns and houses are dark gray, stars are receding with the emergence of dawn, and mockingbirds are starting to sing. My plan was to walk mindfully rather than sit in meditation on my back porch. The morning air was cool and invigorating. Step, breathe, look, listen, smell, feel. That is how I began my walk…mindfully present…not becoming, not regretting, just being.
Then the open space in my mind became a welcoming host, inviting thoughts and images of tasks that I had been neglecting. Obligations wanted my focused attention, and they began to pop up like email notifications. All I had to do was not open them and remain in open awareness. It felt good not to open them, to experience non-attachment to thoughts about my obligations, or even thoughts about thinking. I’ve done it before, many times. “Trying to let go” is hard, but not attaching requires less effort, like simply noticing ocean waves that rise and subside.
I don’t know exactly when my mind detoured from this beautiful moment, but the noise of migrating geese jolted me back, mimicking the noise of obligations that had begun stirring in my brain. “Yack, yack, yack, yack, yack yack.” I intentionally followed the sound, remaining aware of the geese until I could no longer hear them, not attaching to thoughts about them, but simply experiencing the sound without judgment—of them or me. All I had to do then was not create more noise. Judgment about a lapse in mindfulness is just more noise. Acceptance circumvents it.
If you have ADHD, you know what it is like to start out determined to direct your attention and sustain your effort on a task, only to get derailed. The moment you realize that the wheels came off the tracks is your opportunity to practice returning to the task, just like returning to silence when meditating. You have three choices the moment you know your attention has gone off track: you can continue taking your thoughts for a ride, criticize yourself for succumbing to the thoughts and interruptions, or swiftly and silently put the wheels back on the tracks.
Living well with ADHD requires practice and repetition. You can develop a habit of gently allowing the noisy geese in your head to be your wake up call and return to the task at hand when working, or return to silence when meditating. To practice mindfulness in real time is to return as often as necessary to the present moment, at work or on the road at sunrise. I’m actually hearing a mocking bird at sunrise right now, notifying me that it is time to return from thoughts and words to open awareness so I can get to work on time.