I know… mindfulness is pretty popular and everyone is encouraged to practice this weird thing. It will solve all of your problems, can eliminate cavities, will ensure that you will never feel sad again! Not exactly, but many people have found it helpful to bring awareness to what’s going on. It can allow us to pause and think for a minute… maybe give us time to think about our actions before reacting (I know… novel idea). It can allow us to be more thoughtful in how we interact with the world and do our best to have our actions align with our values. I mean, wouldn’t it feel great to live as your best self and not think “shit… I wish I wasn’t a jerk to her yesterday… ugg”. Ultimately, we can’t control our feelings, but we CAN control our actions, yeah? OK, let’s chat about the two things that I hear from people the most when talking about mindfulness: 1) I can’t stay focused that long and 2) I noticed the emotion… and now I’m ready for it to go away.
First, let’s think about the idea that it’s too hard to stay focused because my mind keeps drifting. We’re kinda trained to have an attention span of an ant because there is so much stimulus happening around us. I mean, I’m even listening to a training video while I’m typing this… so I totally get that. I was talking in a group about this and I heard someone say that when we drift… that’s absolutely practicing mindfulness… so that drifting is mindfulness in action. Use all of your senses and notice what’s going on… what sounds do you hear… what does the air feel like on your skin… are there any sensations or smells that you notice? Mindfulness is the experience of knowing what’s happening around us… so that includes noticing when it drifts. Even the most skilled practitioners talk about how they are constantly bringing their mind back to the here and now. So, if this is happening to you… just think it’s the same thing that is happening with Dalai Lama… you are essentially living just like the Dalai Lama.
The second thing about noticing the emotion, then wanting it to go away… the emotion may be overwhelming. Yeah, I totally get that… if that’s happening, get back in your body… you may not be present, and instead getting stuck in the past or future. Returning to the practice… when we practice mindfulness, we will know what’s going on because… well, we’re noticing it. For example, if you’re feeling anxious about something, just think of it as that thing called anxiety is now with you for a bit… you now have this buddy anxiety there to hang out with you… be aware of this without getting mad at yourself for feeling it. Does it really help if your mad at yourself for having a feeling? Does it make it go away? When we give ourselves space to monitor what’s happening, we allow ourselves to have time to be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions. This is because we have time to know if we’re feeling anger… maybe we should take a minute and not respond to that email or comment until we’re no longer having an emotional reaction… how many of us have been there? I definitely have, and I didn’t always (actually, I often didn’t) make a good thoughtful choice.
How do I do this? I heard someone say, “slowing the breathe slows the mind”… kinda rings true for me, how about you? When I start noticing my breathing and try to extend it, things just slow down… it helps me stay present because it’s kinda hard to breathe in the past or future (ha), we kinda have to do that in the now. Being aware of what’s going on in our bodies is interoception. This is a fancy word, but it’s really just about that awareness… knowing that we feel that anxiety in our stomach, or our shoulders… being in touch with that. The best way to find what works for you is to practice this… again and again. This isn’t something you do once and it solves all of your problems. To get the real effects, you have to practice it, and practice it, and practice it… this is some lifelong stuff… no magic pills (and I don’t really think there is a magic pill for a lot of this stuff… it’s about learning and practice… and growing).
The Googles and Google Scholar have a good amount of posts on mindfulness and there are lots of studies on 2 types of mindfulness in particular, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). As you’ll see, the evidence shows that mindfulness can be especially helpful with depression and anxiety. There are lots of mindfulness books and practitioners out there. I’ve read a bit from Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat Zinn who I have found to be helpful in my journey with mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist and peace activist (as of this writing he’s 92 and even has a twitter account!) and Jon Kabat Zinn, who created the protocol for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (he talks about this in his book, Full Catastrophe Living). Totally unrelated side note about Jon Kabat Zinn that I found interesting… he’s married to Howard Zinn’s daughter (yeah, that Howard Zinn, the historian). Back on track…Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is also a style of counseling that brings mindfulness into practice. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) also integrates mindfulness. Lots of other therapies out there incorporate this tool because many have found it so darn helpful.
So, ok, let’s practice mindfulness now, yay! Grab a piece of chocolate (i.e. a Hershey’s kiss) or some kind of food that has a strong flavor and is kinda melt-y. Observe it, notice the foil that holds it, see what it feels like in your hands. Now, take off the foil and place it in your mouth. What are the first flavors that come into your mouth? Are you sitting down? What does the chair or ground feel like beneath you? Allow the candy to melt in your mouth… try not to chew it. How does it feel as it’s melting in your mouth, can you feel it go down your throat? What are these sensations like? OK… did you make it to the end without biting the candy? If you didn’t, no problem, no judgement… just notice that (that’s mindfulness!). Honestly, I often have a hard time not biting into the candy… it’s so darn good!
How was all that? This is definitely something I connect on with clients. Contact me here or give me a call at 512-553-2054 to schedule your FREE 15 minute phone consultation and find out if therapy with me is a good match for ya. Looking forward to hearing from you!