KEYS TO MINDFULNESS
by Terra Tadlock-Smith, LPCC-S
What does it mean to be “present”? I often ask clients this question at the start of therapy. This is a difficult question to answer. However, it is an important first step in deciding how you choose to fully participate in your life.
Being unable to exist in the present moment is at the heart of many personal and relational issues. Most of us strive for a calm and present mind but many feel unable to achieve being present.
So many distractions fill our days. It is increasingly difficult to shut out those distractions and focus on whatever or whoever might need our full attention.
For example…As I write this blog entry, I am lured by the thought of checking social. I have to shut out the sound of the ticking clock on the wall, and learn to ignore the sense of hunger that is building in my almost empty stomach. All of these distractions pull me away from the task at hand and the thoughts that I need to get on paper. As you are reading this entry you may be struggling with similar disruptions. An office phone might be ringing, an email pinging in your in box or a deadline for a project hanging over your head.
But there are some simple keys to mindfulness that persons of almost any age can practice.
- Practice the pause. Often, when we are not present, we engage in automatic behaviors. Examples of automatic behaviors include mindless eating in front of the TV or driving our cars. Automatic behavior means that without thinking you are reacting to a situation. While it is true that we do not have control over most of what occurs in our daily lives, we do have control over how we choose to react to each situation. By practicing the pause, you will start to build small amounts of mindfulness into your daily routine. To do this, simply take a deep breath and count out loud or in your head (one to five) and then respond to what is going on around you. Try practicing it today when you are hanging out with the kids and feel frustration creeping in. Or practice when you are in a stressful situation with a coworker or a boss and feel the rush of worry.
- Explore your emotions. Often we engage in mindlessness and automatic behaviors to numb out feelings that are overwhelming. It is easier to check Facebook than deal with a demanding boss, to automatically respond with anger than slow down and deal with the fear under the anger. Slowing down to ask yourself what you are feeling allows you to build mindfulness about your emotions. Feelings give us energy and if you can describe accurately what you are feeling, you will better deal with your emotions that might be controlling you. One way to practice this is stop and ask yourself what are you feeling in a given situation. Where do you feel it in your body? Notice the intensity of the feeling. What is the shape of the feeling? Are there sounds associated with the feeling? You can even draw a picture of what the feeling looks like. This practice is great with adults and kids.
- Speak from the “I”. Have you had a person approach you and say, “Why do you make me feel so angry?” Maybe they stated they were “sad” or “hurt” instead. How did that feel to be blamed for their reactions, their emotions. When someone has hurt or wronged you, and you want to express that feeling, it is important to express the feeling from the “I”. This practice will help you to stay mindful in the present moment while managing your own feelings. To speak from the “I” means that you are expressing the feeling that you had and not blaming anyone else for your reactions or emotions. Blaming others takes us out of the present moment and helps us to focus on their wrongdoings over which we have no control. To bring yourself back to the present moment, state how you feel. And you can follow it up with what contributed to that feeling. For example, “I feel angry when you don’t take out the trash after I have asked you twice to do this.” This simple change in expressive language will keep you in the present moment and will help the other person in the situation not to become defensive and also stay in the present moment.
Any of these keys combined or separate will help you start practicing mindfulness. The practices listed above will help you to stay focused in the present moment. Above all, be gentle with yourself as you learn and practice these new skills.