Letâ€™s pretend your mind is a bag, and has been accumulating lots of stuff you thought you needed to keep.Â But, much like the bag you hang from your shoulder or the wallet you stuff in your back pocketâ€”it is bulging at the seams and you canâ€™t find a single thought. So, turn it upside down and shake it out and let all the stuff fall onto the table, where you can sort it out and reorganize.
Of course, you canâ€™t really dump things out of your mind; nor can you lay out its contents on a table so you can clearly see what is there. But if you let yourself play with the ideaâ€”you might become aware of the inner experience you are having now. Perhaps this experience could be an introduction to â€śmindfulness.â€ť
So What is â€śMindfulnessâ€ť?
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and not judgmentally.Â . . .Jon Kabat Zinn
Mindfulness is a strategy that has been used for centuries to help people power-up on mental health. Â It is a way of awakening awareness and using that awareness to overcome misery and build greater strength within. Mindfulness is a critical part of meditation. Only recently has it been recognized as a powerful tool in mental health.
Mindfulness is generally practiced sitting down, though how one positions the body is not important–as long as there is relaxation. Â The strategy in mindfulness is to be aware of the contents of one’s mental experience without getting stuck on it.
Two major barriers in mindfulness include “mental chatter” and “judgment”. Â Chatter occurs when we are unable to release ourselves from preoccupation with a relentless set of thoughts. Chatter keeps people up at nights–it is a major problem promoting insomnia. Those thoughts are like a noise in our head that won’t turn off. The other barrier, “judgment” is the human tendency to evaluate our thoughts as “good” or “bad”. For instance, we may observe thoughts of good experiences we have had with our family–and label that “good”; but if our thoughts turn to sexuality, that is “bad”. Â The problem with both chatter and judgment is that they use a lot of mental resource without taking us anywhere productive–like marching in place. Chatter and judgment hook the basic insecurity that is a part of the human condition–taking us to a place where we feel fearful or as though we are not enough. Such thoughts can rob of of our creativity and self efficacy.
So Letâ€™s Play it againâ€”Mindfully
So, letâ€™s begin at the point where our mental contents are open to our observation–which I have compared metaphorically to dumping the bag on the table. We may find ourself sitting silently in a room, early in the morning, just observing whatever mental activity presents itself. In order to make our meditation mindful–we need to pay attention in a particular way (with acceptance, rather than judgment) and not allow our mind to engage in recycling our worries and obsessions. Â This is done by using anÂ an â€śanchorâ€ťâ€”something that will bring us back, so that we donâ€™t find ourselves wandering aimlessly in the forest of chatter or judgment.
Your anchor could be a mantraâ€”like a favorite word or phrase or even sound.Â You noticed you had loving thoughtsâ€”perhaps you can just repeat to yourself a word associated with love.Â â€śLoveâ€ť, â€śForgivenessâ€ť, â€śMercyâ€ť—some word that can keep you focused.Â Alternately, you can anchor yourself with your breathâ€”or even with allowing yourself to keep coming back to an image that brings your peace–like a beach, or your child’s face.Â The important thing of having an anchor during mindfulness is that it keeps you organized and on taskâ€”rather than churned up, confused, and going nowhere.
And what happens if during your session, you are unable to separate your mind from chatter and judgment? Â You can’t stop thinking about your mortgage that is two weeks late, or the thoughts of someone’s foolishness keep pelting your mental space over and over and over. Â This situation happens often during mindfulness. Â The trick is to apply the principles of mindfulness to the situation. Â In other words, you “let it be,” rather than preoccupy yourself with not being able to have a good mindfulness session. One of the good things that can be achieved from mindfulness is to get away from the mental fallacy of believing in failure. Â Do what you can to let your anchor bring you back to mindfulness, and if you just can’t do it, try again later. Now that would be, shall we say, â€śmoxieâ€ť?Â Yes.
What Will I Experience in Mindfulness
Mindfulness is to witness the activity of the mind without the chatter or judgment. You may witness images, sensory messages (such as sounds or smells), thoughts, impulses, creative ideas, or even your state of mind. You may notice if you feel confused, clear, relaxed, or agitated. And, as you become more adept at the process, you can learn to expand your mind (I won’t discuss how to do this today).
Remember:Â The mind is the host. The images, senses, thoughts, feelings, etc. are the guests.Â They are temporary. When you find yourself evaluating the guests or becoming absorbed with one or more of themâ€”use your anchor to bring you back to mindfulness.
How can mindfulness make our lives better?Â That could be the source of many posts. A better question is, â€śHow do I want my life to be better?â€ťÂ Mindfulness can help you with that one.
Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD writes about the strengths and skills people use to face their mental health issues with empowerment (moxie) rather than victimization. She has turned her 30+ years of clinical experience with thousands of clients into stories and tips about how her clients were able to recover from mental illness and addiction and return to the roles they enjoyed during times of wellness.Â She is author of the website www.moxiementalhealth.com.Â Her email is email@example.com
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