Mindful with Irene (41)

Aargh, EURO 2016. Irene tried not to get completely and utterly irritated by non-stop football on TV.

Holding the European Championships this year seemed just fine to me. The Dutch team weren’t playing, so the football fans in my proximity (think: adolescent son and New Love) would be skipping the tournament. Or so I thought. But then it became apparent that they still intended to watch it: for adolescent son, it was the ultimate way to relax after spending the day studying hard for his tests (he claimed), while New Love (who couldn’t use exam week as an excuse) simply shrugged his shoulders and said that “Sometimes, you just gotta watch some football”. So before I knew it, evenings watching (at least) 90-minute-long matches slipped into my daily life. I felt a GREAT DEAL OF RESISTANCE during the first match. Could I simply turn the TV off? Couldn’t that match just be watched on an iPad somewhere in a corner? I really struggled, but then I decided to address the issue in a mindful way. I tried to look upon the games as time to examine my own resistance. One of the important parts of an eight-week mindfulness course is ‘inquiry’, in which, based on questions the coach asks you, you explore what is happening to you during your mindfulness practice (e.g. during meditation or a yoga exercise). And so I went looking for what emotions and thoughts my resistance entailed, as well as where I was feeling it. I also focused on whether the resistance lasted throughout the entire thing or only part of it. And whether it was just as intense throughout the match or whether it rose and fell. In short, I tried to be mindful.

Well, it turned out that this approach was not the solution. And I tried several times. But after only a few minutes into each first half, I was done with the whole thing. Both with watching the games and being mindful. I had simply had my fill of men running around on a patch of grass or—even worse—men prattling away about the game. Just when I hit fever point and felt I could no longer suppress the urge to throw a brick at my TV, I read a column by Aaf Brandt Corstius in the [Dutch newspaper] Volkskrant. And there it was: the ultimate tip. It had nothing to do with watching football in a mindful way; it had everything to do with studying the tattoos of the players. THAT was the solution. Compare them, think of the stories behind them, invent relationships that do not exist. This is what saved Aaf during her evenings, she wrote. So I took her advice and did the same. Remember those hidden object picture games from your childhood (like ‘Where’s Wally?’)? Well, I took that concept and started to look at the screen like one of those hidden object games. And it worked brilliantly. Not only did I seek out tattoos, I also looked for things like least bouncy hair (Ronaldo), the whitest teeth (Ronaldo) and the funniest ponytail (Portugal No. 11, a kind of bun). I may not have watched that many matches in the end, but I will certainly remember this European Championships by having seen football like a crazy picture puzzle. Definitely a refreshing way to watch from now on!

Irene, together with Astrid, is the founder and creative director of Flow Magazine. She lives with her children (10 and 13, co-parenting) in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Each Friday, she writes about how various Mindfulness lessons apply in her daily life.