This week I did my first mindfulness exercise from the book How to Train a Wild Elephant: I tried to use my nondominant hand for some ordinary tasks throughout the day.
I actually do a lot more things with my left hand than I ever did before because I’m often holding Adeline in my right hand and I have to use my left hand. So I tried to notice when I did those things and take a moment to be mindful. I was relatively successful. I would say I noticed at least a few times a day. I also tried to do things with my left hand that even now I would still use my right hand. Most challenging was trying to eat or brush my teeth left-handed.
I actually found brushing my teeth left-handed to be incredibly difficult. Through doing this exercise I discovered that I have a very precise tooth-brushing method (I’m hoping everyone does this, or maybe I’m just a little OCD?) and I could not do it properly with my left-hand – not even remotely. I would end up brushing my teeth left-handed for about a minute, and then switch to the right hand and just start all over again. (I guess that’s the OCD again.)
I also tried writing left-handed. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. I thought it would be nearly impossible and that whatever I got down on paper would be unintelligible. But it’s actually totally legible. It was difficult and took time, but I was definitely able to do it. Granted, it looks like a first-grader wrote it. But that’s sort of the point.
Jan (the author of How to Train a Wild Elephant) says that one of the key lessons of this exercise is to cultivate beginner’s mind. When we learn new skills we have beginner’s mind and everything seems possible. Only when we become adept at something and stop trying do our horizons close in. I remember at the beginning of law school the dean gave a welcome speech in which he told us that the time of limitless options was now over and it was time to start choosing one path from among the many. I understood his point, but even at the time I didn’t like it. I want to continue to have options, no matter how old I get. Just because I went to law school doesn’t mean my path is set in stone. My father did a residency in psychiatry in his 50s and I thought it was so courageous – it’s never too late to make a change and pursue something different. Jan quotes a Zen master as saying “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” I will try to keep a beginner’s mind and remain open to the possibilities in my life.
This week’s exercise is:
“Leave no trace: Choose one room of your house and for one week try leaving no trace that you’ve used that space.”