Achieving Clarity Through Mindfulness
Mind Full, or Mindful?
We’re often overwhelmed by life, confronted by choices big and small. We wake up in the morning and we’re almost in automatic mode: brush our teeth wash, our face, take our health supplements, grab breakfast on the quick. But are we really present to ourselves for each of those actions How many times after you left the house to get on with your day, you wonder: “Have I locked the door?”, “Did I turn off the stove, or the coffee maker?” “Did I brush my teeth?” It is a bit daunting to think that most of the small actions that fill our days pass us by so easily. One wonders what else we might be missing.
Origins of the Term
“Mindfulness practice is simple and completely feasible. Just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount.” (www.shambhalasun.com)
The term mindfulness refers to the ability to focus one’s attention and awareness on the present moment. While the word has entered the language of psychology relatively recently and is quickly becoming a catch all word for everything holistic and new age, the idea of mindfulness has much older origins dating back to buddhist practice of shamatha, or mindful meditation. Mindful meditation fosters an internal non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
In recent years, the practice of mindfulness has been given a more secular mainstream treatment, and has been applied to reduce stress and anxiety. The interest in the physiological and psychological effects of meditations have been documented and studied, and now many North American Universities have sponsored Mindful Awareness Research Centers.
Listen to your Self-talk / Find Your Triggers
To me, mindfulness though supported by a regular meditation practice, extends outside that and spills into every aspect of life. Mindfulness is about paying attention to our life, our environment, and our emotional fluctuations in a dispassionate way; it is about keeping cool under pressure, while at the same time opening yourself to the possibilities before you.
In order to achieve such serenity and clarity, we must first identify our motivators, our triggers, our unspoken beliefs, and our general outlook (basically, what amount to our self-talk).
Here’s a quick self-test to gauge your general outlook: Try to complete the following statements with the first adjective that comes to mind. Use a few if you like, just make sure the answers come from your gut :
- I am ___
- People are ___
- The world is ___
Here are some questions for you to ponder:
Did your answer surprise you? How?
What if anything did you learn from your answers?
Would you change any of these answers ? Why?
Whenever your answer with your gut, without filtering or consciously editing those answers you are giving voice to your internal dialogue or self-talk. You know, that little voice in your head, that tells you you can/can’t do something, should/should not eat/drink/say something else.
Some of you may think you’re set in your ways. However you might be interested to know that recent researchers in the area of brain functions (neuroscience) are becoming more and more aware of the brain’s pliability (neuroplasticity). Advances in neuroscience have shown that our brain can be shaped by our repeated activity.
If you identify what triggers those negative emotional responses, you can address the source of those emotions (beliefs, thoughts, ideas, world view), and go about breaking pattern.
Eliminating the White Noise / Gaining Clarity
“We make the world significant by the courage of our questions and the depths of our answers” (Carl Sagan).
The average person has about 50.000 thoughts a day, most of which never reach the surface of our consciousness. They are literally drowned out by the white noise that fills our lives, and then only the most “shocking” do (which explain our very human propensity for negativity). That being said this internal dialogue still informs each of our actions and reactions.
The purpose of recognizing and realizing what is holding you back is to move us from automatic reaction to purposeful response to events in our lives. As with mindfulness, identifying and distancing yourself from your thoughts gives you a different sort of awareness.
Mindful meditation can certainly help untangle our thoughts, and can allow us some distance from their emotional effects.
Journalling can help as well. Handwriting as been proven beneficial for both children and adults, since the act of writing stimulates parts of the brain that would not be active if we were to type instead. Writing out your thoughts, first of all takes them out of your head, they become things we can examine and explore.
Say it out loud! Externalizing your internal monologue is a first step to understanding what needs to change, and changing it is the first step on your journey to a better you.
How Do We Break The Cycle?
Once you identified the pattern that seems to hold you back, or what triggers the unwanted feeling or behaviour you want to leave behind, it is time to take conscious action. You must first decide which new, more empowering pattern you want to replace, and how to go about doing that. You also need to repeat that pattern until it becomes second nature. After all, if the old adage practice makes perfect is true when it comes to learning a new language or learning how to play an instrument, why shouldn’t it hold true for other facets of your life?
There are many ways of doing that but my favourites are challenging your comfort zone and guided visualizations. Once again, you can pursue these techniques on your own by reading up on them, consulting a life coach will just cut your research time, and will get you there faster.
I used to have a residual awkwardness when it comes to slow dancing. Perhaps it brought me back to the horror of high school dances. I’m still not a big fan of slow dancing but by using the following two-pronged approach I have minimized the reactive awkwardness that this experience used to elicit.
First, I made a conscious decision to face my fear, and tried to go to slow dances with friends. This has allowed me to create new reference points, new memories to attach to this specific action. It has also allowed me to evaluate my feelings and reactions when exposed to a specific trigger.
I also used guided visualization to go back to a time when slow dancing was a pleasant, nurturing and loving experience. I’m sure we’ve all done that when we were kids. I have this vivid memory of me as a young child, I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4.
On those lazy days with my grandmother, I would put my tippi toes on her slippered feet, and I would let her lead me into what I can only surmise was a waltz. Like many of her generation who survived two world wars, my grandmother was a very stern woman, stingy with her expressions of affection. But those impromptu waltzes, on the kitchen floor were pure heaven.
So, by trying to associate a greater comfort with slow dancing by going to slow dances, combined with that lovely feeling of dancing with my grandmother, I was able to stretch my comfort zone in that area. Happy to let you know that slow dancing at weddings is no longer cause for sweaty palms or swift escapes, but alas I’m still no Ginger Roger.
Don’t Let Your Life Pass You By
We feel stress or resentment when our mind is not focused on the present moment. When our attention wonders to the past we may feel wronged, resentful; or we may be focussing so much on the future that we feel anxious about possible obstacles. If we let those coping mechanism run wild we can drive ourselves (and potentially those around us crazy. Or we may be lost in our pain and suffering).
We must recognize that place of balance and ease is always available to us. That we have the resources and abilities within ourselves to reach that clarity.
The good news is there are ways in which we can say goodbye to overwhelming stress and anxiety, and come back to a place of balance and ease.
The first step is achieving clarity.
The second is committing to a mindful practice.
Taking your next step in your journey to personal growth.
And remember, change is not an event, it’s a process.
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