We hear this word all.the.time. If you are anything like I was, the word has you curious, but also somewhat annoyed or irritated by the fluffiness that can be associated with it. Mindfulness has become common speak in many internet articles, books, company trainings, and social circles. Paridoxically, here I am writing a blog on a concept that once irritated me. They say that what you push away is what you need most. I couldn't agree more.
Mindfulness = awareness. How aware of your feelings, actions, and patterns are you? This concept works proportionally: the more aware you are, the more mindful you are, generally speaking.
Your relationship with mindfulness can feel abstract at first. If you have ever wondered, "am I doing it?" then you are in some stage of mindfulness. The beginning stages of starting anything new are the hardest because there is no bell chiming to indicate you are doing it successfully; you just have to trust that you are doing it. There is limited gratification at first, but after a some time practicing and experiencing what a few "wins" feel like, you will begin to feel the awareness of your awareness.
Let me help make this concept more tangible. Meet Mike.
Mike works 60 hour work weeks and continues to push himself to his limit. Imagine Mike driving home during rush hour on Friday afternoon. He is looking forward to dinner and unwinding after a long week with his family. He sees a pretentious car behind him weaves its way through the traffic. The car proceeds to cut Mike off causing Mike to slam on his brakes. Mike’s heart starts racing as if he is being chased by a lion, and his anger begins to spin out of control. Mike reacts by shouting and honking at the driver in front of him. He blames the other driver, staring at him as he passes by, intending to ‘teach him a lesson.’ He immediately blames the driver and others around him.
Mike is focusing on his anger which is digging him deeper and deeper into a mood. When he arrives home, he is detached from his family. He remains stuck in anger for the next couple hours unable to relax in the family time that he had been looking forward to enjoying.
How would you handle yourself in this relatable traffic scenario?
I've been Mike before, and I'm sure many of you can relate. People are inherently emotional creatures, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is everything right about that! Life is colorful and feelings serve as a compass to help us navigate life. However, cultivating mindfulness brings us emotional awareness so that we are not all walking around with hair-trigger reactions anytime we have a big feeling. Mindfulness helps us move from our automatic reactions to conscious responding. Too often people get triggered and immediately dig their claws into their feelings without first taking a moment to pause and see the the situation from a place of awareness.
Let's visit Mike again, but this time we see him after he practices mindfulness.
Mike finishes his busy week and begins his drive home during rush hour. A car cuts him off, and slows down in front of him causing Mike to use his brakes. Mike immediately feels rage, but this time, Mike pauses. He recognizes his anger and notices that he is triggered. Instead of reacting from anger, he takes a deep breath to interrupt his automatic patterned reaction. His breath creates space for him to respond to the situation. Mike still feels the anger, but he has learned to create space by breathing in order to let the flow of life continue without trying to control more than he can in the moment. Maybe the other driver has an emergency to get to? Maybe not. Either way, he realizes that judging or blaming the situation is not productive to him or others around him.
As Mike continues to practice this inward skill, Mike becomes more capable of zooming out of his 'me centered' reality to gain a bigger-picture perspective on tough situations. Instead of reacting from anger and allowing his spiraling thoughts to overtake his mood, he learns to create an internal environment of peace and flow despite what happens to him directly or the environment around him. This does not mean that he holds his anger inside to let it build; rather, he learns to shift his perspective and sit in the reality of the moment.
Embracing the flow.
**UBER IMPORTANT.** Learning to flow with the moment does not mean bottling up feelings! We all know that person who bottles up their feelings (cough, cough). All of a sudden you're left standing in the aftermath of an explosion thinking, "What just happened?" Acknowledging feelings as they occur is healthy and necessary! Feelings are like waves of an ocean. Ocean waves vary in strength from baby waves to Portugal's massive 70 foot colossal waves. They peak and eventually fade into the shoreline. Feelings are no different. Some are big. Some are subtle. Allow feelings their airtime then let them fade into the shoreline.
What do you do when you feel a big emotion? It is important to fully accept that you are experiencing a feeling. So often people are afraid of their feelings that they cut them off from themself. They avoid and deny themselves their own reality. Maybe you have been called "too sensitive" or "over emotional." Emotional expression is critical for our spirit, and whoever has conditioned you to cut them off is probably unable to handle their own feelings. Some people are more sensitive than others. Honor individuality, and let it be.
Embracing the flow allows people to be present. Being present and experiencing life's moments as they unfold is where the magic resides. Mindfulness gives you the power to be — in the moment exactly as it is, without judgement. According to John Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness Expert and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, mindfulness is defined as,
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.
If mindfulness is a new concept, this description may feel complex, and that’s ok.
We are surrounded by a world of right and wrong. A world where empirical evidence trumps intuition or common sense. As humans we naturally try to make sense of chaos to create order and meaning. In our world, people deem things good/bad, beautiful/ugly, and right/wrong. Mindfulness asks you to soften the judgement.
When you experience life's experiences without judgement, you act as a witness to your behaviors, instead of a judge. There is so much more peace that way! I was raised in a household of three girls and "doing it right" was such a moving target. After I let go and learned how to let go of judgement, I felt a big pillow of exhale. I want everyone to taste this release. Mindfulness asks you to experience life without judging others and yourself. Let go of thinking you know how a situation will turn out. Let the experience unfold. If you are used to controlling the outcome or blaming others for not meeting your expectations, let me be the first to prescribe more mindfulness! :)
No one ever said the 'without judgement' part would be easy. Once you let your good ol' pal 'judgement' take the back seat, you begin to accept the moment for what it is.
It is in letting go of control that you gain control.
Practicing mindfulness may feel foreign at first, and that is completely normal. Just by trying, you are doing it! I have summarized the main points to help get you started:
Stop. Notice you're uncomfortable or triggered by stress or an emotion.
Slow down. Pause and take a few deep breaths to center yourself.
Scan your body. Acknowledge the feeling for what it is. Notice what your body feels like. Where do you feel tightness, burning, fluttering, or a sensation of "holding on"?
Sit in the flow of the now. Breathe again and allow the tension to release. Notice the moment for what it is. What is actually happening? Are you telling yourself a story based on your past history or through your personal lens of experience? You don't have to enjoy the moment, but notice the moment for what it is.
Self talk. "I am ok." "I can do this." Choose the response you deem appropriate.
Working on your insides takes courage and vulnerability. Changes do not happen overnight, but overtime. Life is just a blip of time, worth living to its fullest. Mindfulness just one of the tools that can help you taste all of the flavors on your journey. A subtle but powerful tool.