Even Taxes Can Be Done Mindfully
Usually I dread doing taxes. Like many, I put them off; or groan about them; or find some way to make doing them a miserable experience start to finish.
Since I’ve been talking so much about mindfulness; and trying to build more presence into my life – even about or especially about the difficult or undesired things, I set the intention to approach my taxes mindfully this year. I’m trying to practice applying Mindfulness to all aspects of every day life – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Instead of predicting a long period of drudgery for myself and postponing my tax appointment to the latest possible date, I kept the randomly assigned appointment and worked backwards to two weeks tops to when I would start working on them. If I was going to be miserable I would set a time limit about how long I would allow myself to be miserable.
I started each tax work session with some yoga stretches and a guided meditation. I could feel the invitation to myself to be more present. I noticed my own initial protests: “It’s so time-consuming. I can’t find all my stuff. Why do I pay the tax guy when I’m the one who has to do all the work? I hate doing taxes”, etc. I could feel how the attitude of “I hate doing taxes” led me to feel more of the same.
I tried simply naming the thoughts (gripes, complaints, worries) and was able to shift from elaborating the story of them to simply hearing my thoughts as mental sounds – background noise I didn’t have to pay attention to.
I became aware of my feelings: resentment; feeling like ‘poor me’ having to be stuck with piles of paper when I’d rather be at a movie or outside doing something fun. I was aware of my boredom with the tediousness of number crunching; my disinterest; I wished to be somewhere else; restlessness; distraction seeking, sleepiness, etc. I managed to think about the millions of other people in this country, at this time, trying to do their taxes – or having to face much worse things. I remembered I am not alone.
Then frustration showed up as I spent two hours (the maximum amount of time I would allow) searching for a particular document that I know I had carefully saved but could not remember where. I berated myself for my lack of organization, for not doing data entry each month along the way rather than waiting to do it all at once at the end of the year. I was self critical about how slow I am on any project I take on. I made mistakes on my calculations and had to redo them. I begrudged myself for spending too much money. I couldn’t remember the makeshift processes I was setting up haphazardly and was angry at myself for not streamlining better…
Thankfully I remembered and kept coming back to the fact that I had set the intention to bring mindfulness to even this unpleasant situation. I realized my dialogue with myself was unkind and it was making me feel worse. I knew I could choose instead to listen to something different so I put my favorite music on.
I could feel my body’s tightness & constriction as I was tallying amounts, and took that as a reminder that I needed to move. I did some tax work while standing up and gently swaying. I felt my body moving to the rhythms and beat of the music I had turned up. I actually danced my way through my Schedule C, and felt light hearted even when my numbers weren’t all adding up right.
I periodically paused and just gazed at the springtime beauty unfolding outside my window. I felt awe and grace in the middle of my expenses.
As I reviewed my calendar and associated charges, I reflected on the year and re-experienced the wonderful times I’d had (travel, celebrations with dear ones, new challenges I faced and accomplishments I made in putting my work out there, a conference on the Science of Awe). I gave a slight bow of compassion and tenderness to the times of heartache in 2016 (loved ones lost, the election, client sufferings, arguments with people I love). My heart felt full.
I began to forgive myself for my lack of organization and even for my boredom and resentment. I found other missed treasures (a beautiful drawing made by my niece that made me smile) while I was searching for that document that I had misplaced; and of course I came upon the lost document long after I had stopped searching for it.
I reviewed who I’ve made donations to and reflected that this year in particular I want to increase my giving to organizations helping the increased numbers of people being discriminated against or excluded – especially once I heard how the new president wants to spend my taxes.
As it turns out, I was able to complete my taxes in a more mindful way than usual. I was present to my thoughts, feelings and body sensations for the most part – with acceptance and without judgement. I connected to experiences of awe, gratitude, self compassion and was able to have a more pleasant time overall doing my taxes. Ultimately tax prep even felt meaningful.
Finally, when I went to see my tax guy, he let me know that he is retiring. I’ve gone to him for nearly thirty years – my whole professional career. I appreciated that he had sent me reminders to pay my quarterlies. And I appreciated how long he’s known me, has kept me in mind and always been kind with his good service. I felt sadness at not being able to work with him any more, and wondered who will help me next year?….But that’s another moment in the future. I can’t really be present to that until it comes…
Here’s to wishing you Mindfulness in all of your pleasant or unpleasant activities. May your non-judgemental awareness make for a more meaningful experience, no matter what you’re doing.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.
Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
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