Last night an interesting combination of events occurred. The intersection of a wide variety of thoughts and emotions all triggered by something as relatively harmless as making supper.

The boys and I had been swimming for hours, and as it was approaching evening, I began to prepare dinner. I asked what they felt like, since the heat tends to destroy what appetite I do have. They said they wanted "a sandwich, with meat in it". Hmmmm, looking at the refrigerator, that was not exactly what I had in mind. A sandwich with meat in it.......well, they are always asking for homemade hamburgers, and I always say no. I have those ingredients, so I might as well make hamburgers.

Oh how delighted they were......all the way through supper, "thank you momma!", "how wonderful these taste momma!", "we didn't know you could make these momma!" over and over. One simple meal, and they were overjoyed.

And yet, all I could think was: I hate hamburgers. I seldom eat them when out dining, but when I do, I prefer sauted mushrooms and onions, and melted Swiss cheese......not the "standard" American hamburger, and certainly not what I was taught to make as a child.

That's when it occurred to me: I can't stand the smell. The grilling of the meat, the slightly smoky taste from grilling them, the ordinary catsup, mustard and mayonnaise combination. Every aspect, every component brings to mind images of the low educated, white trash, trailer park, dirty children, plastic wading pool, beer drinking family that I shrink from.

Which is interesting....first, to be so obnoxiously prejudice and stereotyping an entire culture (which is inaccurate to say the least), and second: that the issue of homemade hamburgers could bring this all to mind.

Ah, now there's the kicker. My therapist has mentioned delving into the subject of mindfulness. She's not the first therapist, nor counselor to suggest such a topic, in fact, I studied it deeply while in college. I'm well aware of why she has suggested the disection of mindfulness, for many who are diagnosed with DID, share a common tendency to not be fully aware of what they are sensing in the world around them. Due to extensive trauma, that part of the psyche has been shut down: to feel, to be aware of one's emotions, to simply be fully conscious of the world around us.

I thought for a moment about this idea, and truly wondered at the connection between homemade hamburgers and the embarrassing mental image that was immediately called to mind. Truly, what is the connection?

Well, it's relatively easy to state that yes, I grew up making hamburgers, within a dysfunctional familial unit, and therefore do not care for the smell. But, the fact that I was aware of the smell, brought to my attention the very essence of mindfulness.

My therapist, as many have, has handed me a sheet with over 21 questions on it, all in order to formulate a foundation of personal awareness. Basically the goal is to reach the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding that so many of us excercise regularly. "Notice 5 things you see, 4 things you smell, 3 things you can feel, 2 things........." We practice this in order to center ourselves in the present, and although lengthy, the questionaire she provided me meant to accomplish the same things, yet to a deeper level of consciousness.

"Describe yourself as a person" (What do you like most about yourself? What do you like least about yourself?"

"Describe your father. In one sentence, describe your father's life"

Of course the questions continue through the entire family unit, childhood experiences, personal standards and values, etc.....until you finally reach question number 21 (and are absolutely fed up with the intensity of the exercise).

And yet that is where mindfulness comes into play. How we FEEL. Well, we feel a lot of things, and many of them are unpleasant, hence we have learned to block these away, to release a Novocaine injection of a psychological sort that numbs our very mind from any sensory input.

I read a quote from George Elliot later that evening: "If we had keen vision and feeling for all ordinary human life it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's hear beat, and we should die of the roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walks about well wadded with stupidity."

What truly am I aware of around me? Although I despise the word "stupidity", I immediately connected it with my earlier biased thoughts regarding homemade hamburgers and the stereotypical "white trash" upbringing I cringe in reaction to. There was no denying that it was indeed "stupid" for me to formulate such a negative and inaccurate conclusion as a result of preparing supper. So, answer the question: What am I truly aware of around me?

And just as easily the memory came to mind of the smell of both of my boys when they were young. I literally would tuck them deep under my chin and inhale their fragrance.........there's something magical about how a new baby smells. It's not the baby powder, it's not the dryer sheets, or laundry detergent. It simply is the smell of a wee one's life.....his (or her) skin, the pure newness of everything about that precious 10 pound bundle.

I thought of the smell of garlic as it hits the hot pan, and how much I enjoy adding fresh herbs from the garden. Even now, the herbs may be store bought, but there is nothing in the world as fragrant to me as cumin when it responds to the heat. The aroma is pure joy, and communicates an absolute headiness I anticipate from the first moment I reach for the ingredient. I know, I can feel, I anticipate what I'm about to experience. That, in a nutshell: is mindfulness.

Rachel Carson says: "For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories and it's a pity that we use it so little."

It occurred to me then as well, that (as usual) I was watching the boys intensely while they were swimming, ensuring that I knew exactly where they were, that they were well behaved, and that they were safe. It wasn't until later, when I climbed into the pool with them, that I recognized their arms wrapped about my body. Their little faces, with missing teeth so unique to this age group, and I could almost see the babies they once were. Before I knew it, I had pulled them both in close, tucking their heads next to mine and inhaled: ahhhhh, there's that aroma. The smell of pure boy-ness mixed with chlorine, the macaroni and cheese they had for lunch, and a bit of my perfume. That: is mindfulness.

So, I may despise the fragrance of homemade hamburgers, but the reality is that for my children, the experience created a memory for them that was truly positive and will be heartwarming for years to come.

And, as much as I may display reluctance to answer all 21 isn't all about the negative memories. There are positive ones.....and it's time for me to start calling those to mind as well.

Have a wonderful day today everyone......

I'm going to take at least one moment today to recognize the sensation of something positive within my immediate environment. I'm going to ask myself: how does this smell? How does this feel? and perhaps most noteworthy of all: how shall I remember this?


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    Shelly Dowen-Johnson

    I am currently traveling with my husband across the United States, due to the nature of the work he does. 

    I am the mother of two boys, one who has recently been diagnosed with Early Onset Childhood Schizophrenia (Schizoaffective Disorder). 

    It appears the Dowen family gene sequencing contributes much more than the darling dimples both boys have inherited!  But, as always, with love, tender care and support....we will thrive! 


    June 2012
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    April 2012