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