Living in Tulsa 'Tine: Grieving, Healing, and Connecting on Socially Distant Tulsa Time. Episode 6: Just This Moment

Living in Tulsa 'Tine: Grieving, Healing, and Connecting on Socially Distant Tulsa Time. Episode 6: Just This Moment

May 22, 2020

Early on in my career I learned about the power of practicing Mindfulness. This was another wisdom that I learned from Marsha Linehan, PhD, the developer of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She developed a program that is very powerful for helping people heal from a number of problems in living. Mindfulness is central to the entire program. In order to work with clients with this new and powerful set of skills, I had to learn them myself. I found for myself that Mindfulness can be life changing. But I struggled with it. Everything in my being seemed to rebel. I had long considered myself the queen of multitasking. I could keep so many balls in the air at once that it gave me a sense of power. Trouble was it was stressing me out big time. At one point I pretty much fell apart when personal stresses came along that overwhelmed me. That was when Mindfulness really served me well. That was when I stopped rebelling every time I tried to still my mind and focus on just one thing in the moment, which is key to mindfulness. And it helped. In so many ways it helped.

So, what is Mindfulness? Mindfulness is when we choose to focus on just one thing at a time. We observe it, may even describe it to ourselves, but we DO NOT judge it. No matter what “it” is. We approach mindfulness with a calm, open spirit, waiting and watching for whatever is there. Being non-judgmental means that we do not evaluate what we are focusing on. We remain objective, as the observer sitting on the shore of a river or lake watches as the boats go by, without trying to influence the boats. We may describe them as large, fast, slow, having sails, brown, black, white…. The kind of descriptions that if ten of you were sitting there you would all agree on what was observed.

While you are practicing mindfulness the mind will play games with you. It will get distracted onto other things. You will find yourself shifting your focus, or thinking about something else. Don’t beat yourself up for it, just notice it and gently shepherd yourself back to what you chose to focus on. Mindfulness is best done with your eyes open. You can’t go through life with your eyes closed, so let them simply rest on something while you are mindful.

A basic mindfulness skill is called, “Following Your Breath”. The nice thing about this is that you always have your breath with you. To practice this mindfully you:

  • Settle yourself into a comfortable position.
  • Keep your eyes open but let them just rest on something. You won’t be truly looking at anything, because your focus will be inward
  • Find a place inside your mind to observe your body breathing
  • Start with one deep breath, then observe as your body breathes. You will notice several steps to your breath.
  • * First the inhale
    • Then a turn to the exhale
    • Then a rest
    • Then a turn to the next inhale
    • And on from there.
  • Don’t try to control your breathing. Don’t work on breathing deeply. Just observe it from the vantage point you have found inside
  • When you notice you have become distracted, and you probably will, just gently acknowledge it and shepherd your attention back to following your breath, no matter how many times you become distracted. This also is a part of mindfulness
  • Continue for about 2 minutes

This is your basic mindfulness exercise. Once you learn to focus and refocus your attention you can practice mindfulness on anything. Try:

  • Mindfulness while taking a walk. Simply observe everything around you, from the feeling of the ground under your feet, to the sun on your skin, to the sound of birds or the wind in the trees, the colors of green, or yellow, or red, or blue, or white of flowers and leaves. Just notice and observe everything. And when you find that you have started to think about something else that is not present in the moment, again, gently bring yourself back to observing what is around you in the present moment
  • Mindfulness while making coffee or tea. Observe the cups as you select one. Notice the feel of it in your hand. Notice the sound of the water heating, the smell of the hot water, or the coffee as it fills your cup, the tea as it steeps and changes the color of the water, the first sip of the beverage. Roll it around on your tongue and notice the flavors as it crosses your taste buds, the sensation as you swallow the hot liquid and it goes down to your stomach. Now sit back and enjoy the rest of the cup mindfully, noticing any changes in temperature and flavor as you go..
  • Mindfulness of sounds, this is one of my favorites. I find it extremely relaxing. Find a comfortable place to sit, rest your eyes, and just open your awareness to sounds around you. Don’t reach out with you mind to find the sounds, just sit, expectantly, open to whatever emerges from the background. As your mind relaxes into this exercise you will notice a variety of sounds that you were previously unaware of, seem to emerge out of nowhere. Simply sit and notice whatever catches your attention. Do this for as long as you wish.

You may notice, while practicing mindfulness, that your shoulders relax, your face relaxes, and you feel a sense of overall calmness and peace. Life is so filled with hard things. When we are grieving we tend to focus our attention on the past, what happened that caused the loss, what life was like when we could still be with our loved one. Good memories and sad memories fill our awareness. Or we focus on the future, imagining what our life will be like stretched out before us without the person or thing that we have lost. Either of these focuses on the past or future tend to be uncomfortable, drawing us into our grief and loss, and filling us with fear and sadness. But when we focus on the present moment only, experiencing what is here in the here and now, we can find rest. The present moment is the only place we can experience happiness or joy. We can endure anything for a moment. So when you practice mindfulness you are giving your heart a break from the pressure of grief and loss. Say to yourself when you feel overwhelmed, “Just this moment Just this moment.” When you have been practicing mindfulness this call to be in the moment will help your mind let go of the worries about the future and the sadness of the past.

Life may be hard. But the good news is, it’s ONLY hard. Think on that until next time. So until then practice, “Just this moment” today.

- Emilie McCartney Smith, LPC