Mindfulness In The Rain

If you know me, then you know I can blather on about mindfulness an awful lot, in a way that is at least marginally useful, if not actually useful. There is one little message that I repeat very often in my blathering, because it seems like we all need to be reminded of it constantly: mindfulness isn't interchangeable with meditation.

Meditation is one very awesome way to practice mindfulness. The big picture benefits of meditation is that we can be more mindful, moment to moment, in our day to day lives. Because… that’s what mindfulness is: paying attention, in an intentional way, to what is happening right now. That’s it. Simple but not easy. And of course that happens during meditation, but that’s not when we really need it the most.

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I’m an optimist by choice, like many others, so my inner optimist counters with this: When you expand your thinking of what mindfulness is, and start to see all the ample opportunities to practice daily, magical things start happening.

The other day was a beautiful warm spring day, so I decided to go for a run of course. I was excited, because spring is my favourite running time, after fall, and together those two seasons equal about 6-8 weeks of the year where I live, the consequence of this fact being a two very intense short periods of “OMG I have to go run right now before it gets too hot / cold / humid / icy!” But since I’m me, I’m also in a perpetual state of “I’ll go run / swim / to the gym right after I do all these things on my to do list”.

That mindset resulted in me getting outside precisely when a thunderstorm was starting to roll in. Lesson learned (maybe) but that’s the situation I was in. There is so much that can be said about a thunderstorm in April, but I’ll limit myself to this: It was unexpected (There aren’t even any tulips up yet!).

My intuition said “You’ll definitely get caught in the rain if you go”. My stubbornness says “You want to run, so run already!”and colluded with my inner planner who added “Schedule says it’s time to run!”. The part of me that hates getting caught in the rain was just a mess of sentence fragments like “Wet socks!”, “Chaffing!” and “Unpleasantness!”. All solid arguments, to be sure.

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There was even a tiny, very quiet voice that was like “Maybe you’ll like running in the rain, other people seem to like it”, which was roundly shushed by all the other voices that were like “Come on man, we’re not those crazy people, they might not even exist!” (They do, I checked).

Then my little mindfulness voice was like “It’s not raining now”.

And that word now really grabbed me. Here I was standing outside like a dumb ass, wasting my present moment thinking about potential (= likely) future rain. As I started my run I realized that my aversion to rain, which was based in my actual past experiences of unpleasantness, was also a result of a total lack of mindfulness. What if I could just be in the rain, instead of thinking about what could happen because of it (Cold wet sweaty chills! Squishy socks! Pasted on underwear!)? What if those things didn’t happen at all? Or what if those things happened without a big build up of worry beforehand - would it change my experience?

I knew I would soon get a chance to answer these questions, because after I enjoyed all the pleasant cloudy and breezy parts of my first kilometre, I changed directions and got to experience running uphill, into the wind, while many thousands of sand particles blew directly into my face. “I wonder if this is what a sandstorm is like?” I asked myself, immediately realizing that 1. It was definitely not, 2. I hope I am never in a sandstorm, 3. Rain seemed like a pretty good option at this moment and 4. Oops, I lost my mindfulness again.

So I tucked my head down and I ran into that wind and sand and I just took it all in (though I admit I was actively trying not to literally take sand into my eyes and nostrils, and I feel that was a good choice). And guess what? It changed, just like everything changes. I turned another corner right into some very horizontal rain, which was initially a relief. The slow, heavy, fat raindrops, and relief, quickly switched to full on downpour, and partial rain blindness. I kept running, and noticed that this particular moment was refreshing, completely free of sand, and far too wet to fret about.

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When I started my final kilometre, I was in the thick of the downpour, and since I am afraid of lightning (and quite frankly highly suspicious of anyone who isn’t at least a little concerned with electricity randomly shooting out of the sky, and the related consequences), I did my best to say in the moment I was in and not worry if I would be struck down by lightning, or think about all the good advice about staying inside during thunderstorms that I was ignoring.

Instead, I mindfully took in the scene around me, which was a much lovelier way to spend this very soggy moment. People were running down the street, ducking under cover, and generally being very tenacious in their attempts to stay dry which quite ineffective so I noticed a lot of giggling as well. I had given up on being dry ages ago and was completely soaked, which totally freed me from giving any craps about getting any more wet.  

In exact moment that I stopped running and started walking, I wondered whether I really did hate getting caught in the rain, or if I just disliked my past experiences. In this moment, I felt super refreshed, I didn’t care at all how disheveled I was (which was “very”, for your reference), and I felt warm and comfortable. Had I focused on all the ways that being soaked was going to suck, then that’s what I would have been thinking of in that moment. (As a bonus, after I let my hair air dry it looked fantastic! I guess I will need to go rain running more often to get my curls on point.)

In the past, listening to that first inner voice that said “You’ll get caught in the rain for sure!” would have meant going back home and skipping my run (and doing something less soggy, and more indoorsy, instead). But the tipping point happened when I realized “Yep it’s going to rain, but I could just do this anyway and take each moment as it comes.”

It was a great reminder that mindfulness is really for allowing us to be present in the moments that comprise our lives. Being in that space makes it so much easier to experience life with an open mind and let go of prejudgments that close us off in so many ways.
Meditation is one very awesome way to practice mindfulness. The big picture benefits of meditation is that we can be more mindful, moment to moment, in our day to day lives. Because… that’s what mindfulness is: paying attention, in an intentional way, to what is happening right now. That’s it. Simple but not easy. 

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