by Laura Lynch, Life Coach, LCSW
A few words about mindfulness.
I certainly employ it in my therapy work. As you can image, breathing, focusing, mantras and imagery is useful in my practice with people enduring serious mental illness. (It is also being used in places such as jails, where I used to work, and for children in at risk schools).
After slowly spreading from the margins (in the West at any rate) it is has become widely used by people who likely already have plenty of discipline, looking for further improvement. Such as athletes, entrepreneurs and chief executives.
It has been studied and proven to work by scientists and scholars. Stanford University and other academic research centers have famously studied how meditation works with Buddhist monks. There is a real neurological process going on here. I happened to recently catch a “Humankind” NPR segment reporting on the benefits of mindfulness meditation in helping people gain at least emotional relief from serious and terminal illness.
People may think that focused breathing seems either too easy or too difficult. They might say “anything that easy cannot work.” Or perhaps “it is just too hard to do, not worth the time.” Maybe they think it is a fad or merely a trend. I can only say there is a definite connection going both ways between breathing and energy. Energy is either scattered, focused, turned inward or outward. Energy connects with your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual state. Breathing is life, life is energy. Finally, you cannot really live in past or future, you can only really live in the now, the present moment.
Mindfulness meditation.can help clear or reframe thinking and create calmness before or after the “storm”. I can attest it has worked for me. I tend to be allergy prone with an over -active immune system. At times, I confess, I may push unpleasant things aside and keep going when I have to, so I sometimes end up with physical problems. On the other hand, years ago, running late across campus, I noticed hive(s) starting to prickle on my skin. I observed this, and then slowed down and tried some regular, deep breathing. (I really, really did not need an outbreak then). They went away immediately. Perhaps I was anxious, and the breathing put into the real present and not some imagined future.
It always came fairly easy for me. As an introverted child in a large, lively family I would use my bedroom as retreat after school, and I would gaze out my window to watch the clouds float by and birds flit around. I also took to reading early on and enjoyed art, and later took up poetry. Trust me, nobody in my family or community would have ever uttered “meditation”. What I think was happening was that I was allowing my real nature to bloom. I needed the quiet alone space to expand. To this day, while I love working with people, facilitating groups and teaching I still need my quiet time.
For others, such as my husband, (who is perhaps a bit AD) stimulation is sought, and he often goes from “thing to thing”. Yes, he is really good and fast at social media, and is able to focus on his media work and his television shows, but as an actor and a teacher his true light comes out in his interactions, performing, and sometimes becoming something else.
As taught by Thich Nhat Hanh (my favorite!) mindfulness meditation does not have to be sitting in an uncomfortable position doing breathing and mindful observing. You can do walking meditation for example. Or you can do what my mother did as I was growing up, doing the dishes and quietly singing beautiful hymns. Mindfulness meditation can give you much needed sense of peace in the middle of a traffic jam. (However, do I always practice what I preach? Well of course not. I was in the middle of a horrendous night time traffic nightmare a month or two ago. I did not have a sense of peace or gratitude toward my ever so helpful passenger – spouse!).
As I wrote about in my first post, reaching and centering gives us balance and energy. But perhaps instead of getting hung up on mindfulness and meditation, focus on doing some things you actually enjoy. While taking a meditation class is great, taking the time to do what you enjoy is even better. Remember the self actualization level on the endlessly taught Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Going into the flow through your thoughts and activities, feelings and emotions will do the same thing:
*Being inspired, connecting to nature, having a deep and close conversation with a friend with lots of listening, creating something, a nice home clean up (scrubbing or decluttering), yard work, reading, writing, playing sports, anything with music (listening, singing, playing) being around animals, crafting, sewing / knitting etc, throwing a party, going to church, loving your job (work as play), a challenging outdoor activity, learning a new skill (like coding?).*
Even social media can inspire or create laughter at times. Or perhaps practice the discipline of doing something that seems less than enjoyable (hey, the bathroom needs cleaning!) but then finding you can get into the work of it and gain satisfaction of getting something done. Peaceful or active does not matter, nor being alone or with others. (Perhaps my only reservation is someone who *enjoys* running for office, perhaps because the current political environment is so toxic).
As an additional thought on mindfulness, I find it interesting that it has become so talked about, at least in the media, at a time when a lot of what we do on social media seems so remote, automatic, and yes mindless. This social media activity is also a source of worry, stress, and sometimes toxic communications. It is interesting that in this age of the selfie that a quieting of self conscious babble (monkey brain) is also attractive to some. Of course there is sort of irony of sharing my thoughts on mindfulness through social media. (But then life is not “black and white”, it is a lot of grey, or perhaps a lot of colors, and consistency can quickly become rigidity).
Mindfulness is not going into yourself, it is connecting yourself to the world, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is being well grounded. In that way reaching and centering are two sides of the same coin. So be mindful and take the time to focus on living the life that reflects yourself (let it shine) and enjoy yourself once in awhile!
As for me my dogs are calling, so I will practice some mindfulness with them.