My friends and I can go a little crazy being mindful if we aren't careful.
When we're not reminding ourselves to chop vegetables with the focus of a monk, we're working on deep breathing while turning compassion inward.
When we're not practicing mindfulness meditation or looking more deeply at the mind-body connection, we're walking in the woods with a Thich Nhat Hahn podcast, going on a yoga retreat, talking about going on a yoga retreat or writing an ode to our deeper selves.
If healthy is the new skinny and orange is the new black, living in the present moment is modern woman's new path to OCD perfection.
Used to be, the way to feminine nirvana was paved with selflessness: Women were to make nice, not trouble, and always put others first. Even 50 years post-Friedan, we still worked jobs, got out of bed with the flu to make homemade cupcakes for the kindergarten class and nursed our aging parents until we dropped ill ourselves. When people called us "saint," we blushed with pride.
Enter the age of the New Enlightenment when yoga is more popular than jogging, and mindfulness and meditation are a billion-dollar business, according to market analyst IBISWorld. Schools teach mindfulness communication, corporations teach workplace mindfulness, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 18 million Americans practice meditation.
Women are especially interested, because we know a good self-improvement project when we see one, and because our gender in particular needs the anxiety reduction: A University of Cambridge study says more women are anxious than men in part because of the female propensity to ruminate.
It's all good. Only thing, we're not always sure what enlightenment looks like or the best way to get there. We can become driven and paranoid about trying not to be driven and paranoid, turning enlightenment into another project with an end goal instead of the limitless inner quest it really is.
We have the language and the meditation apps, some 1,000 of them at last count, just not yet the mindset, the means or the conditioning, and the irony of this stress is not lost on me.
For the selfless woman who's been told since she was 4, "There's a special place in heaven for good girls like you," turning that level of care on ourselves can still feel like inviting the devil to administer last rites.
"Do you love yourself?" a therapist once asked me.
"I think so?" I said.
It's enough to make me have a panic attack all over my Daily Om meditation manual.
But not quit trying.
Because this is one woman's movement that makes sense.
More than Superwoman; more than getting my husband to wash the dishes and change the diapers; more than birth control or fast food, this is one monumental lifestyle shift requiring nothing and nobody else to make it happen. Only me and a meditation app. Or less than that, a breath.
And it works. The other day, just getting home from a long day, I got a text from a friend suggesting we change complicated plans we'd made weeks before. Within half a second, I'd started down the usual inner thought processes, panicking about how I was going to respond evenhandedly because in fact I didn't want to change plans; how my friend was going to respond to my response; and how stressful it was going to be finding resolution. In a split second, my heart rate was up and my breathing quickened. I was stressed.
And then I stopped.
I did what my neighbor's Buddhist-monk son taught a group of us during several Skype sessions many years ago after he returned home from Japan. Closing my eyes, I deep-breathed, while shifting focus to the universal grounding spot I'd discovered between my eyebrows, where somehow churning evaporates and quiet calm emerges, where my best self seems to exist with no space or need for panic.
When I opened my eyes less than a minute later, I was in the composed and focused state my friend's son taught me to practice accessing. I responded to my friend calmly, and she in turn.
We can go a little batty when social trends hit the satellites, what with Ellen, Oprah and Dr. Phil barking at us. I get no less than six meditations in my inbox on various topics every morning, everything from "Personal rituals to sacred healing" to "Chakra tuneup in seven minutes," which can be so overwhelming at times as to make me worry I will die before ever achieving this apex of enlightenment that even monks, I'm told, have trouble sustaining.
It's enough to make a woman go crazy.
Or, hmm, open up an app and meditate.
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)