There is so much out there today about mindfulness that it is difficult to know what it really is and what it can do for you. Is meditation the only way to practice mindfulness? No. Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways.
Let me start with what mindfulness is not.
- Mindfulness is not just meditation.
- Mindfulness is not a relaxation exercise.
- Mindfulness is not a way to control our thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment, accepting whatever thoughts or emotions you are experiencing, with openness and without judgment. You might be thinking, “Well I don’t want to experience sadness, loneliness, anger, anxiousness, or any negative emotions. I want to only experience happy, positive emotions”. I get that. And our brains tells us this on a regular basis as a way to try to protect us. But the truth is, to live a full, vibrant life, we must be open to all of the human emotions that entails.
Let’s talk about what happens when we are only open to the “good feels”. If we try to control our thoughts and emotions, what happens when we have one we don’t want to allow ourselves to feel? We do one of two things, we avoid feeling it by distracting ourselves with another activity, TV, alcohol, drugs, not leaving the house, or we get tangled up with our own mind trying tp get rid of the thought or feeling. Either way, we are not out living the lives we want to live. Instead we are zoned out or stuck in our own heads. All of our time and effort is spent avoiding what we don’t want to feel. That leaves no time and effort to put toward living our lives in the present moment and enjoying the things we like to do.
How do you practice mindfulness? Some ways you can practice mindfulness through visualization, sitting quietly, taking a walk, focusing on breathing, and of course, through meditation.
You can use your senses to be mindful and pull yourself back to the present moment. What do you see? What do you smell? What sensations do you notice in your body? What do you hear going on around you. Try it. Is it easier to connect with the present moment, the here and now?
What can mindfulness do for me? Mindfulness is a powerful way to ride our thoughts and emotions like a wave. Mindfulness can help you stop playing tug of war with your anxious thoughts or stop running from them in fear. Notice that running from these thoughts and emotions may help your fear subside for a short time but they always come back, often stronger than ever, with more and more power over you.
By allowing yourself, through mindfulness, to experience whatever thoughts and feelings you have, you show yourself that you are strong, and you do not have to run. The minute you stop avoiding these once very difficult thoughts and emotions, is the moment you take your power back.
Mindfulness can give you the space to see these thoughts and emotions as separate from yourself. It also gives you the space to decide whether such thoughts are helpful to you or not. What do you mean by helpful thoughts? Helpful thoughts make it easier for us to take the actions we want to take. Unhelpful thoughts, if we choose to get caught up in them or believe them, keep us from the actions we want to take. For example, if you want to ask some friends to go out to the movies with you but you have the thought “No one will want to go with me”. That thought is not helping you take the action of asking friends to go to the movies with you. Through mindfulness, you can step away from the thought and make a choice. Is that thought helping me in this situation? No. So you can then make a choice, am I going to give into this thought or am I going to take the action of calling a friend and going to the movies?
Mindfulness is an integral part of Acceptance Commitment therapy. Research shows that mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. If practiced, it truly can help you let go of your anxious thoughts. How amazing would that be?