“Don’t believe everything you think.” ~Unknown
I am a self-confessed overthinker. I could spend hours thinking and going down the rabbit hole in my mind trying to find answers to all sorts of situations.
About ten years ago, I struggled with burnout. I was a nurse for about twenty-two years. All I knew was nursing, and I was defined by it. As they say, “A nurse is always a nurse.”
This makes leaving nursing something hard to do, even when it’s unhealthy.
I’ve always worked in high-stress areas like intensive care and trauma emergency rooms, but burnout made it impossible to be there physically and mentally. It is sad to say, but at that point, I had no compassion to give.
I was physically drained, couldn’t focus, crying all the time, and the anxiety of it all was unbearable. I needed to know why this happened and what I did wrong. Hence, the overthinking that came with it all.
Before all this, I was a goal-setting planner person. At that time the only thing I could plan was were to sit on the couch to ponder.
I literally sat around analyzing my life, which only brought more regret, blame, and despair.
At this point, I also lost my spirituality, which made it much worse.
The sad part about burnout is you don’t realize you are in it until it’s usually too late, so you tend to go back into jobs you know, and for me that was the high-stress environments. I did what I knew, not what I should do.
I failed again.
This was about the fifth job I left because of the burnout, and now money was dwindling. I remember driving over a four-lane bridge from yet another failed opportunity, thinking my bridge to cross was bigger.
In my case, I couldn’t see the water’s edge or future on the other side.
What was the point?
Devastated, I stopped working altogether, using my savings to get by.
I would sit on the couch “strategizing,” which meant overthink everything for hours.
Regrets, dreams lost, future uncertain, bad career decisions swirled in my head. Then I would plan my future with unrealistic goals from the comforts of my couch and blanket.
I even pondered my navel hoping a Divine source would help me.
Around that time, someone told me I needed to get out of my head and become mindful.
This is when the amazing minute would soon come in.
Mindfulness seemed elusive, and of course, it was something I had to analyze.
I was far from mindful. Watching thoughts meant more things to think about. I was trying to find mindfulness and bring it back to my couch.
Until one day…
I finally got off the couch and went for a walk. I sat down by a stream, and before I knew it, I was completely present for about a minute watching this little leaf.
It turned and twisted as it floated down the stream. It wasn’t struggling like I was. It was letting the flow of the water carry it where it needed to go. If it bumped into a rock, it would twist away. if it got stuck, it would become unstuck by the water’s gentle movement.
This little leaf had no resistance to what was happening.
At that moment everything clicked. I felt spaciousness as this sense of peace washed over me.
This was presence.
Letting go of the struggle. Letting go of the thoughts that held me in my past.
This was a powerful experience. For a minute.
It was fleeting.
I kept going back and forth between overthinking and being mindful.
I wasn’t going with the flow; instead, I was fighting it, trying to control the direction of the stream.
I then realized a few important things…
I could be grateful for the small moments of mindfulness. Five seconds or a minute were precious.
I needed to stop trying to hold onto mindfulness. It wasn’t something tangible that I could hold, grab, or pull within me. It was already there, waiting for me to let go of my resistance to it.
I learned being mindful could happen anytime and anywhere. It didn’t have to be a big thing. I could be mindful of washing my hands, petting my cat, or listening to a car go by.
These simple things started to take on a greater meaning.
But it was still fleeting. Until I finally stopped analyzing mindfulness.
I was trying to create the experience of being mindful, except I was experiencing it from a memory perspective, and then I would look forward to the next experience in my future.
At that point I realized, fleeting was okay.
The present moment will always be fleeting as it’s a point of time between the past and the future. To stay in the present is to stay in the now without the worry of before or after.
I now look at all my thoughts as a stream of consciousness that, like the leave, I can float upon as I remain in a state of calm. There is no struggle here. No resistance. Just a sense of now.
Over the next two years, my burnout went away, my overthinking and anxiety decreased, and I was able to go back into nursing.
This time, I started off slow, working in a small nursing home, doing home care, and then eventually I went back into a hospital setting, albeit a non-stressful environment.
I finally found peace and contentment in the simple things, and I was able to bring my tiny present moments with my patients and coworkers. I finally enjoyed my career for the first time in a long time.
Mindfulness is a big part of my life, and I’m grateful for the lessons this situation has given to me. Without it I would have never had my mindful minute that changed my life.
I now appreciate going with the flow, because I have become that tiny leave who navigates down the stream of life, one mindful minute at a time.
Fleeting or not, it’s perfect the way it is.