It’s Never Just About the Mashed Potatoes

It’s two nights before Thanksgiving and I’m making mashed potatoes to bring as my contribution to the small family gathering I’ll be attending in two days. Something isn’t looking right and I can feel my anxiety building as I watch the mashed potatoes develop into a strange consistency. As I watch, my thoughts go something to the tune of: “No. I don’t have time to do this over again. I don’t even have time to go to the grocery store to re-purchase everything. I did not waste time/money for this to get messed up…” Complete reality rejection. I send a message to my sister group text (very active group text consisting of my three sisters and myself).

Me: “You guys, I think I messed up the mashed potatoes.”

Sister 1: “Oh no!”

Sister 2: “What happened?”

Sister 3: “Gummy consistency? You over mashed them.”

Apparently this is a thing and it’s a rookie mistake. I think: why didn’t I consult my very wise sister, who knows more about food/cooking than anyone I know, prior to doing this?  But the even more pressing question at hand is: why am I crying about it?

I pause to take inventory…

COVID cases have begun spiking again and I can feel the imprint of this on family, friends, clients, the world.

I’m about to apprehensively attend a very different Thanksgiving dinner than my typical large family gatherings. Most of the regulars are excluded. I feel sad for my Grandpop, knowing that he’ll be alone. I feel sad knowing that so many people will be alone.

I had a health scare recently that I’m deeply grateful ended with relief instead of sadness, anger, etc. Even so, good news didn’t cancel out the stress of waiting for results.

My husband was recently required to go back to work in person. For the past two weeks, I spend workdays without seeing another human being in person for the majority of the day. I miss having him around the house. I don’t realize that this has a tangible impact on how I feel.

I suppose I haven’t stopped much to notice how I feel lately. Sometimes I get into ‘doing’ mode and forget to pay attention. I’m half aware of what I’m feeling, but brush over it because I’m so focused on what’s next. I’ve recently been neglecting the very thing I urge clients not to forget. The need to pause and pay attention to how you feel, to be in your body, to breathe. Once I slow down enough to do so, I’m able to stop judging myself for crying over mashed potatoes. I’m able to vent to my sisters and recruit support. Becoming aware allows me to do all the things that I know are effective for me, but I realize that the skills in my toolbox aren’t available until I know I even need them.

That’s the thing about mindfulness. It’s not an occasional, fleeting gesture. We don’t check the box for practicing it a few times and move on. It’s a perpetual, lifelong endeavor. It requires routine practice, recommitment and self-compassion for when we are human and mess it up.

So the main idea with the practice here is to pause and pay attention on purpose. In this case, I started by reflecting on the reasons why I might be feeling “off”, which naturally leads to more self-validation and less judgment. It’s all about the mindfulness ‘what’ and ‘how’ skills. Here, it was particularly the observe, describe, nonjudgmental, and one-mindfulness skills. Observing and describing thoughts, emotions and sensations of the body as they move through, without getting too attached to any of them. Making sure that I’m honing the one-mindfulness skill by doing JUST this practice (rather than that “half way” version I mentioned earlier). The key is to return to this practice often.

After pausing to reflect, breathe, observe, feel, communicate, I’m already feeling better. Sister 2 graciously informs me that she got new mashed potato ingredients delivered for me the following day. I thank her profusely and note my appreciation for all three Sisters listening to me complain about mashed potatoes (and the various other things I was basically ignoring).

She responds: “it’s never just about the mashed potatoes”.

It’s Never Just About the Mashed Potatoes

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