Understandably, individuals experiencing a great deal of anxiety or panic are reluctant to take on any more items to place on the already overwhelming "to-do" list. Clients with depression want to have their sadness go away and are not very keen about the idea of focusing their attention towards the experience of depression (body aches, sad feelings, lack of energy). Similarly, the most common response to grief and loss is to try to escape the sorrow and pain in some manner. Mindfulness is not about relaxation, or avoiding pain, and given our natural preference to seek out pleasure and side-step suffering, it might be hard to wrap one's mind around why it might be a good idea to just embrace the present experience in a curious way no matter how uncomfortable it may be. There is a paradox here in that while formal meditation practice helps us learn to live with discomfort, and to accept reality instead f fighting it, which ultimately decreases our distress response to the discomfort and allows us to cope in a more intentional and balanced way.
Formal practice involves dedicating a certain amount of time to practice meditation on a regular basis. It has been suggested that daily 30-40 minute sits are most beneficial for creating lasting changes in our perception. Formal practice is not for the faint of heart! It IS WORK because it is training the brain to just notice what arises as we repeatedly harness our wandering thoughts and gently guide them back to the experience of the present moment. We are used to being reactive, to jumping up when we remember the milk was left out on the counter, or to adjust our bodies and stretch when we become aware of a twinge of tension. Formal meditation asks us to notice these thoughts, sensations and urges in a gentle and curious way, without moving to fix it, and then to return the attention to the breath. (Note- This is a generalization, formal practice is not always done sitting, the object of attention doesn't always have to be the breath, but this is the most common form of meditation used for "formal practice"). This is often what clients think I might be suggesting when we begin to explore how mindfulness might ultimately assist them in overcoming anxiety, stress, depression or grief.
Thankfully, mindfulness can be brought to any activity in daily life. This intentional awareness and focus on the present moment while moving through one's activities and tasks in life is known as "informal practice". And this is a great place to start. This sort of attention to the experience of one's life can be done while noticing the comforting warmth of water while washing our hands, the way that our mouths water as we slice and smell a vegetable, the pleasure and release experienced while experiencing a massage, or the sense of relief one may feel while walking down a forest path and noticing the smells, sounds and sights of nature in a deliberate way. Being in the present moment has a profound ability to ground us, and it is actually quite natural for us to be mindful of the pleasant experiences in life. The tricky part is to remember to do it! Mindfulness practice does not need to be invasive or time-consuming in any way. It can be done at work, while driving, while walking, while talking or while eating. It can even be done while laying in bed listening to a guided meditation for sleep (see links on resources page).
The clients that do try these practices often report an overall reduction in stress and increase in their felt sense of well-being. They walk into the office with their shoulders relaxed and smile more easily. They begin to report joy in everyday happenings and sometimes describe things that used to seem ordinary or neutral as fascinating and joyful. This is what is known as embracing the Beginners Mind, we are all quite skilled at this as toddlers, babies and children, we just seem to temporarily forget how. Ultimately, my job as a counsellor is not to overload you with more to do, and formal meditation is not for everyone. However, a gentle exploration into learning how to remain present seems to cultivate change and ultimately, relief. And I am more than happy to work with you to explore the things that work best for you.
If you take a DEEP BREATH HERE and pause for a moment to consider your thoughts, (ANOTHER DEEP BREATH).... mind state, (BREATH).... posture (BREATH)... and level of physical comfort... You can say that you just read this last paragraph mindfully, and you are already on your path to feeling better.
I'd love to hear from others what it has been like to bring mindful attention to some of the "ordinary" moments, activities or tasks in your life, and what you noticed.
Feel free to comment and share openly Dear Ones!