People, all of us, want lives that are meaningful. We also want to avoid negative thoughts and feelings. The rub is a meaningful life is going to bring us into situations that will stir up unpleasant thoughts and feelings. It also very likely requires change if you don’t find your life meaningful (enough) now. The act of trying to change can itself stymie the process, even if you have invited making a change with open arms. Well that’s a pickle. So how as people living in the real world where we don’t often, if ever get, to avoid difficult circumstances to you get to have a life that feels whole and meaningful? A life where you make the most of your time and the calling of your heart show up, not just the things on your to-do list?
There are a number of things you could do, but one of the most important is to become profoundly clear and centered. Right well that’s easy when the world is speeding by at 100 miles an hour and your feel like you need to be in two places at once. Actually it might just be easier than you think. We have a way of making things more complicated than they need to be, believe me, I could have won a gold metal in this at one point (now I get an occasional honorable mention).
What Options Do I Have?
Limit your life by making choices driven by emotional avoidance. This may not be the best option because it’s impossible to completely avoid fear and anxiety. Also, passing up on things that are important to you is only leads to more unpleasant thoughts and feelings.
Try to live a meaningful life while trying to control all of your thoughts and feelings. This can sometimes work, but total control over your feelings is not possible, and often results in more intense thoughts and emotions.
Make choices consistent with a meaningful life. Be willing to experience the thoughts and feelings that come up along the way without adding extra resistance into the mix by avoiding or judging them or yourself. You change your focus from controlling thoughts and feelings to controlling what you do. Yes, I know, easier said than done; however, mindfulness is a powerful approach to doing this.
So What Is Mindfulness?
A particular kind of awareness, commonly defined as nonjudgmental (or compassionate), present-moment awareness of what is going on inside and around us. Mindfulness can increase your flexibility in responding to both internal (thoughts and feelings) and external (the rest of the world) events. Mindfulness is process not an end point. It’s a habit that brings us more fully into our lives because we are shying away from the good, bad, ugly or spectacular.
Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of what arises internally or externally in the present moment without becoming snared by judgment or wishing for something different. Originally developed in the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness has become an accepted and scientifically proven approach to develop new types of control and insight in life. It builds our capacity for relaxation, awareness, insight and attention.
“Mindfulness is the miracle by which we can call back our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness helps you to take time to notice what has become the natural order of things in your life and thoughts now; to work with these things, not against them. Forcing change is what sets up and re-enforces resistance. Ever notice when you have tried to change NOW that suddenly all you can think about is what you want to change, how hard it will be, why you will not be successful or some other variation on this theme? That because often we spend our lives thinking about the fretting about past or worrying about the future, instead of focusing on what is right here, right now and applying the Zen Theory of Change.
There are a number of mindfulness activities come in many different forms and can be done at any time. You do not need to be a Zen Buddhist monk, a Tai Chi Master or cloister yourself away for hours or years. My favorite exercise to begin playing with mindfulness takes five minutes and a raisin. Don’t like raisins, try a hard candy or chocolate drop. First look at the raisin from all angles, go ahead smell it too. Now put the raisin in your mouth, and slowly chewing let the flavors and textures unfold in your mouth. If your mind wanders off to your checkbook and the bills, report that due next week, or the kids’ sports practice tonight, just bring it back to the raisin. This is the beginners mind. Remember seeing a kid fascinated with one small new thing and all her attention is focus on exploring the blade of grass? You are playing with the same attention when practicing mindfulness. I bet you’ll come back from those five minutes with a calmer mind, more deep breath and a lower pulse.
I have written about mindfulness before, but in preparing for a presentation on Oct. 6, “Mindfulness, Acceptance and Values: Foundations for Quality of Life” at the 5th Mental Health Research Conference, Southern Institute for Mental Health Advocacy, Research, and Training, reminded me of the usefulness to returning to topics.
Deirdre Danahar © 2011, all rights reserved