Mindfulness; The Pause for a Cause

Our reactions to most situations can benefit by pausing ourselves and being present in the here and now. We are all faced by events we find distressing every day, both small and large; burnt toast, account overdrafts, misbehaving children, loss of employment, failing grades, and sometimes even the loss of a loved one. Depending on our individual reactions to these events, we can escalate them into episodes of profound depression, panic attacks, substance abuse, mania, hyper-aggression, or one of many other mood and behavioral conditions. Mindfulness can arrest a simple feeling of fear, sadness, anger, frustration, or loneliness and “keep it real” before it snowballs into an emotional crisis.

Mindfulness can be described as; the focusing of our intentions on what we are experiencing in this very moment, the here and now, without judgment, expectation, or elaboration; a curious, open-minded acceptance of all there is in the moment. For many, mindfulness is first arrived at via simple meditation techniques, and with practice, becomes a readily summoned state of mind. This segment from the Mindful Awareness Research Center provides a 5:00 minute guided mindful meditation practice, similar to those used in clinical settings. My experience has been that if I enter into each practice with a subtle physical cue, such as tenting my finger-tips together, or touching a familiar object, subsequent performances of the physical cue will bring my body and mind into a conditioned state of mindfulness more quickly. Once we are physically relaxed, and mentally present, we may assess our feelings and/or stimuli in a non-biased way and likely avoid harmful escalations of thoughts and emotions.

Let’s take a situation for example. I have just brought my brand new car home and parked it in the driveway. My 8-year old son, excited to see the new car, comes into the driveway on his bicycle. The handlebars of the bicycle scrape the side of the car, and my brand new vehicle receives a two foot long gouge through the paint, right under the driver’s side door-handle. I feel surprised – that is all I felt at that instant. I am surprised by the event. That sensation, that feeling, is the only uncontrollable “happening” in my mind, thus far. Everything in my mind that follows that sensation is MY DOING. I could…

Respond to my surprise by thinking, “MY new car! I should have taught him to never ride his bicycle next to a parked car. What was I thinking, bringing a new car to this house? I am so STUPID!” and on, and on, and on until before I know it, I hate myself for thinking that someone as careless as myself even deserves a new car. Allowed to escalate, those thoughts could generate even greater self-defeating feelings such as depression. Or perhaps…

I respond to my surprise by touching my right thumb to my right forefinger tip and thinking “Breathe in…2,3,4 and hold…2,3,4 and out…2,3,4,5,6,7,8. What is now? Some paint is damaged. My child is surprised and apprehensive. I am surprised, and I can choose to feel calm. What the next right thing?” My thoughts are now on the event, the consequences of the event, and the right response to the event. “Are you okay, son? I’m glad that you didn’t fall down. You seem to be excited about our new car. I feel it might be a good idea to make a new rule to protect the car and keep it looking pretty. How about if, from now on we all walk our bikes in the driveway when a car is parked here, okay?”

Mindfulness is a simple technique for giving us a little pause, a moment of serenity, between feelings that we have no control of and are neither good nor bad, and our thoughts and actions in response to them. Mindfulness is also clinically shown to improve circulation, reduce blood pressure, reduce the need for pharmaceutical pain management, improve digestion, enhance learning and memory performance, reduce cravings for drugs and alcohol, and a host of other benefits. Relax. Everything that is…simply is, and nothing more. Be Well. *photo courtesy of Flickr’s Creative Commons

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