How one reacts to chaos says a lot about a person. As moms, our lives can be pure chaos. Messy rooms, piles of laundry, and dirty dishes are the physical signs of chaos in our lives, but that is just the tip of the chaotic iceberg. Our homes are chaotic, our schedules are chaotic, and our relationships can be chaotic. I have likened motherhood to a circus act, the juggling and balancing act that is our daily routine.
There are days when my mind feels like it is being devoured by an endless list of things to do or places to go. I find it almost impossible to stay grounded when my feet are tripping over superheroes and spaceships as I run out the door. No matter where I turn there is always something or someone who needs me.
Being present is such a struggle when our lives are disorganized and chaotic. And despite our best efforts to find the time to do it all, we are greeted with long to-do lists and many loose ends at the end of the day. The question becomes … if we can’t escape the mess, how do we ground ourselves amidst the chaos of life?
One way I deal with chaos is to organize and clean. I know that cleaning lessens my anxiety, and it makes me feel more in control of my life. Even if I know that control is an illusion, I still try desperately to find order in my life.
While extremely helpful, cleaning and organizing are not always the answer to my feeling happy and present. I get temporary relief from my anxiety, almost like a high or a fix. But what I notice later, down the road, is that I begin to NEED that order and cleanliness in order to relax and breathe. And I also know that “a life in order” is not always available, and not always possible. That is my conundrum … I need order to feel safe and grounded, but chaos prevails in my life.
Please don’t think that I am dismissing the acts of cleaning and organizing. To the contrary, organizing and cleaning can be healthy forms of stress management, as it is necessary and helpful to put things in their place as well as to label and categorize things. What’s important, for me, is TO BE AWARE that cleaning relieves my anxiety, and TO RESIST it becoming a condition for my happiness … or possibly becoming a way of avoiding myself and my life. When order becomes something that we NEED in order to feel safe, settled and in control, we must look at alternative ways to find that peace within ourselves, as we can’t always depend on finding order in a chaotic world.
For me personally, it is so satisfying and rewarding when my home is freshly cleaned and things are organized; on the rare occasion that that actually happens, I can maintain that level of organization for about seven minutes, tops. The difficult part for me is not the organizing and cleaning (I’m good at that). For me, the REAL challenge is to sit down, breathe and accept the feeling of being unsettled … of my life being messy and my life being chaotic. Being unsettled in my life is both a physical and emotional discomfort for me – a discomfort that is my anxiety.
Have you ever heard someone use the phrase, “Things will get better or easier when this time in my life has passed.” “I will be able to breathe when this is over.” I can’t wait until this is over so that I can get on with my life.” We often feel that in order for us to enjoy ourselves and to be happy and present in our lives that the chaos or stress must end. But there is another possibility, one that is by all accounts much more challenging, but immensely rewarding.
Rather than needing the chaos to end in order to breathe and be present, we can breathe and be present amidst the chaos. This is, for me, the definition of being mindful. Letting go of conditions and expectations for our happiness, we instead embrace both the order and mess in our lives. The first step toward mindfulness is OBSERVATION, the act of listening to and noticing yourself – noticing if you’re holding your breath, feeling the physical sensations of your nervousness or anxiety, noticing the rumination and swirling of your thoughts, and observing the physical pain and tension in your body. For example, my awareness that I use cleaning and organizing as a way to lessen my anxiety is the first step toward being self-aware and present. AWARENESS and OBSERVATION are the foundations of living a mindful life.
Some folks believe that being mindful means NOT being anxious, NOT getting rattled or NOT feeling overwhelmed. This misconception does mindfulness a great disservice. Being mindful does not mean that chaos skips over you, and only affects someone else’s life. Being mindful simply means that we are aware of ourselves and aware of our responses and behaviors. Mindfulness means we act with intention as well as take responsibility for own actions.
I am aware that cleaning eases my anxiety … that creating order in my home relieves the tension I feel in my body. Occasionally I notice that on some days I don’t clean up the mess, and the feeling of not cleaning up the mess is really uncomfortable. Sometimes I can be okay sitting with my discomfort, my chaos and my anxiety … and sometimes I try to fix it. Some days my anxiety will ease when I sit with it. Others days, it does not. Sometimes I realize that I am safe and okay, even if I am anxious.
Being mindful allows me to accept wherever I am in given a moment, anxious or not, without judgment. Sometimes I clean, and sometimes I don’t.