On Being Mindfully Present
April 10, 2012 by
Categories: Mindfulness


I recently found myself in a state of numbness. For months, I had known that I was unhappy but I wasn’t wanting to do the work to find out why. Tired of feeling the uncomfortable feelings, I had also numbed myself to the really enjoyable ones: joy, elation, happiness, contentment. I realized the price of avoidance was that I now felt nothing.

Eventually, the avoidance and numbness just became too much on its own. So I decided to take a look at my life and find out what was going on. This change hit me gradually, as if I sensed it happening but didn’t want to admit it.

On a whim, I began writing about my experiences – and not in the typical “keep a journal” fashion. I only wrote when I could think of it, never kept a strict schedule. I just began writing about what I was experiencing – no matter how big or small.  I simply detailed the adventure and how I felt and thought about it. Without intending to, I was practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness occurs when we mentally take a step back in order to observe how we react or behave. Though often referred to as a form of meditation, it doesn’t  require what most people associate with meditation – sitting cross-legged and silent. Mindfulness occurs throughout our normal day as we move from one activity to another. It is a way of monitoring the people or things you encounter and how they impact you – in your heart, mind, and body.

So many of us are moving through our days in blindness – unaware of how or why we react in the ways that we do. For me, I knew that I was unhappy but I couldn’t pinpoint why – because I wouldn’t give myself the time.

“Mindfulness is [a] form of meditation that we perform as we go about our daily lives, and is designed to give us more control over our minds so that we can reverse ingrained tendencies and cultivate new ones.” – Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong, who has helped to lead the Charter for Compassion, explains that mindfulness can lead to compassion not only for yourself but also for others. Through writing, I was able to see a link between the way I interact with people and my own feelings of insecurity and low self-confidence.  I began to connect my feelings of anger and resentment to my defensive and avoidant behaviors. And just as importantly, I noticed that happiness was associated with something different than it used to be.

Mindfulness allowed me to see where my unhappiness originated and how my attempt at dealing with it was not working. Journaling happened to be the method that worked for me. It forced me to slow down my thoughts and pay attention to the details. But there are other methods as well: meditation, deep breathing,  or simply making a mental note. Some people incorporate these methods when they eat or exercise, in order to connect more fully with their bodies.

It is important to point out, as Karen Armstrong explains, that the goal of mindfulness is not “to pounce aggressively on the negative feelings that course through our minds.”  Rather, it is to be a witness to what occurs in order to understand. Once we understand, then we can begin to make the necessary changes.

Though I can empathize with my previous self, avoidance was not the way to manage my unhappiness. Give yourself the time you deserve – take a step back and look. Gently examine. You may be surprised by what you find.

 

References:
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Borzoi Books)

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