Mindfulness, Mindlessness, and ADD


Sometimes having ADD is more an exercise in mindlessness than mindfulness.
We ADDers and “pirate” type personalities have a wee tendency to get distracted and act on impulse. As a Clinical Psychologist who has worked with many at-risk kids and teenagers for over 30 years, you probably think I’m going to talk about how mindful meditation can help people with ADD become more focused and attentive. You might also speculate that mindfulness training would be a very useful adjunct and alternative to mass quantities of Adderall and wheelbarrows full of Ritalin in the treatment of the more dreaded form, ADHD (ADD with Hyperactivity).  Those unfamiliar with ADHD may have run across the full-blown disorder in some earlier life experience such as watching a 10 year old freckle faced cousin or nephew bounce off the walls after eating cake and Coca Cola at a family member’s funeral and then deciding to jump into the open casket with the deceased just to “see what it feels like”…. or something on that order.

In my case I only cut off a small section of my little sister Julie’s lower lip at age 12 while
attempting to recreate a Bozo’s circus act I saw that afternoon on TV. Well, maybe I also
engaged in a few other somewhat anti-social behaviors involving Twinkie wrappers and carving curse words into my nice new desk, the one I was supposed to be studying on.      I I swear I saw that exact desk being hauled away in a truck on a recent episode of Storage Wars. The point is that ADHD can be a bitch…often for other people as well as for the person with the problem. As far as we, the ADD-afflicted are concerned however, life is often a big “adventure” and an interesting blast, except when it comes to homework, socializing, and behavioral consequences, all of which are things we dont tend to specialize in, at least not early on. As I said before, we may be initially better at the “mindless” living in the moment part rather than the Zen-like mindfulness. Hindsight is always 20/20.

So what exactly is this mindfulness “thing”, anyway, besides a faddish new-age concept that is used by hipsters to promote and further legitimize their yoga, yogurt, and retractable awning businesses?

As usual there are multiple definitions that bear only a vague resemblance to each other depending on how you want to look at it and especially how shamelessly one want to pervert the core concept of mindfulness to further ones greedy, self-centered and/or
materialistic ambitions.

Before you accuse me of being too cynical allow me to 1) fully admit to being cynical
and sarcastic…boom, now whatcha gonna do? 2) acknowledge that being
mindful is probably still very good for most of us and is alot better than triggering
a world war on an angry or impulsive whim or mindlessly eating sleeves of fig newtons
with buckets of sweet tea very late at nite and 3) validate the fact that actual
scientific research demonstrates that practicing mindfulness improves ones
mental and physical health. When I say actual research I am referring to
the 5% of clinical studies that were NOT sponsored by large corporations or pharmaceutical companies who hire mafia hitmen and wealthy lobbyists to stand over the researchers (also known as primary investigators) and whisper into their nerdy  little ears, “This betta work, Einstein…we got big money into this”, etc.  Even if I am cynical I am quite capable of being semi-objective ……in a semi-impulsive way.

Here is one decent definition of mindfulness: “The first component [of
mindfulness] involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is
maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased
recognition of mental events in the present moment. The second
component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s
experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized
by curiosity, openness, and acceptance”.  Personally I can do the
curiosity and openness part without a problem. Acceptance is somewhat
dependent on circumstances. For example if I witness a shooting or a fire
breaks out on an airplane I am on that is, let’s say, waiting to take-off, I will
not remain quietly seated, do deep Ayurvedic cleansing breaths, or accept the “reality” of the situation.

You can bet your butt that I will instead focus on the “flight
or flight” reflex in my brain and probably do both (fighting and
flighting) to get off the airplane alive.  If you ever want to see
a nearly 60 year old man with cervical arthritis scamper like a
professional athlete and leap like a gazelle, light a fire or smoke
bomb onboard a plane and watch me mindlessly vault over the first class
passengers busy drinking chardonney and eating freshly baked
cookies and then do a triple lutz somersault out the partially blocked
cabin door. Such is the human will to survive. Mindfulness, on the
other hand may not be so easy.  Physical survival however is most important.

The main problem for ADDers is that we fidget. Fidgeting is like a key
component and prerequisite skill in our large tool bag of useless
life skills. Sitting still for long lectures, yoga classes, Buddhism
seminars, and even cancer-causing 12 minute tanning sessions can be
excruciating. We just cant keep still. We go through life vibrating with
kinetic energy and yiddish “spilkas”. My son Ben, now a renowned medical
student at MCG and self proclaimed genius was once so fidgety as a child that
I actually witnessed him vibrate all of the metal screws and bolts out of his desk
until the doors fell right off.  I swear. I know he didnt use a screw driver
or do it as a teenaged prank because that would have taken too much time and
effort on his self-centered teenager part. It just happened over time and
due to the basic physics of ADHD. How can one be so accomplished and smart now
you might ask? Well, I never said you cant be a genius with ADHD. It’s just
you wont find people like my son (or me) earning a meditation certificate or sitting
Zazen at the Atlanta Zen center. Instead, we would probably be the ones kicked out of the silent retreat at the Jesuit Monastery. My other son Eli, at age 21 almost tore an arm off one of the standing cadavers at the “Bodies” exhibit at Atlantic Station because he couldn’t NOT touch it and of course wanted to check out  how “real” it felt.  That’s what I mean. We cant help ourselves and, in addition, we’re extremely aware and “mindful” of the hilarity that lurks everywhere in the known and unknown universe, and especially in Monty Python-like pious monasteries and taken much too serious yoga classes.

That brings me finally to the main topic. ADD people “see” humor and pathos in life’s
myriad forms……. We turn the world upside down, on it’s ear and then get a big kick out of expressing it. We sing it out, dance it out, write it out, sculpt it out, paint it out and especially act or mimic it out. That’s the kind of “therapy” I promote and support.

Many people call that creativity or theatrics, and it probably is, but it also is a necessary form of individual self-expression. Maybe our natural form of being “mindful” is to “mirror” what we see and turn it into an impromptu lyric opera, improv skit or solo comedy act. Dont get me wrong. Learning to focus and self-regulate ones attention is still a critical life skill we need. But it cant or shouldn’t be regulated by any one form, posture, blueprint or cookie cutter treatment. We’re too unique for that and like any good pirate worth his gold doubloons and interesting creative people everywhere, we are way more likely to fidget our way out of the box and color over the lines that others hold so dear. Arrrgh!


About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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