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My take on mindfulness...
Mindfulness. What is it? Where did the concept come from? And most importantly, how can it be used to help us deal with our emotions and cope with stressful situations?
To understand the concept of “being mindful” it is important to understand where the concept stems from. In Buddhist philosophy the term mindfulness is described as a calm awareness of one’s own body, feelings and consciousness. It is used today in many forms to help people cope with mental illnesses such as PTSD, depression, and borderline personality disorder to name a few. It is used in therapy, but anyone can use the practise of being mindful to deal with stress or even just to simply slow down and enjoy life’s every moments.
In the book entitled The Mindful Way Through Depression- Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn, readers are engaged in an exercise whose aim is to slow down thought and promote awareness of one’s senses.
The exercise goes like this:
- Eat a raisin (I used a sip of orange juice- it’s all I had and raisins are gross).
- Hold whatever you are using for the exercise. Focus on it, see it. Pretend that it’s from Mars, so new and interesting.
- Look at the different colours, the texture, the heat or coolness that radiates from it.
- Smell it. Hold it beneath your nose and inhale the scent.
- Next place the object on your lips. Notice how and where you instinctively position it. Take a drink (or bite, if you’re really using a raisin).
- Let the juice stay in your mouth, don’t swallow. Feel the tingle in your taste buds. Now swallow.
- Feel the liquid drain down your throat, and into your stomach. Feel the energy that you get from consuming it.
- This is mindful eating. It is experiencing only the food, or drink you are consuming.
It is isolating our thoughts to one simple task.
Could you use this exercise for your feelings?
When we feel sad, or happy, or worried or anxious, what are we actually feeling? When someone who commonly feels anger is experiencing anxiety or apprehension are they able to isolate their feelings and describe them as being anxious or do they simply, and thoughtlessly describe being angry? How do we use the method described above to isolate that feeling and truly allow ourselves to experience it and be able to identify it?
You may feel hesitant to proceed with exploring your emotion, especially if you fear it and are afraid to meet it.
Approach it with openness.
Consciously decide to dive in...full body and full mind.
“Our body has a lot to tell us about how we are feeling, not just at peak moments but all the time. Yet we often don’t hear its messages with any degree of wisdom, because we are too busy reacting to them in ways that immediately triggers a cascade of thoughts and judgments”(Williams et al., 2007).
Feel the emotion you are experiencing.
Don’t make any presumptions about it. It’s not because your brother won’t let you use the computer, it’s not because your girlfriend or boyfriend didn’t call you back.
It’s deeper than that. It’s your feeling. It’s your sadness or anger or happiness.
Just feel it, and be fully present.
Go into a private space, somewhere you can really focus. Feel that emotion with all of your senses.
Be vigilant of how your body is physically reacting. Can your feel your heart beating faster? Can you feel your lungs inflating at a faster pace? Are your thoughts going a mile a minute?
A technique I was taught by one of my psych teachers was a technique called box breathing. Inhale for 3 seconds; hold that breath for 3 second then exhale for a full 3 seconds. Repeat until everything slows down.
“If we can see and accept them (negative thoughts) in this way through mindful awareness, we may eventually gain some insight into them and how they appear.” ( Williams et al., 2007)
Being mindful is not a concept that is only beneficial for people who are experiencing a mental illness. It can be used for everyone. It allows us to slow down and really experience the emotions that make us human.
Find more information on mindfulness on Be Mindful.