One of the tools I continue to offer my clients is an exploration of the practice of mindfulness.
Perhaps you have come across one – or several – of the hundreds of studies that suggest that a mindfulness practice can make a big difference in a person’s nervous system, and therefore in their life.
Clients who are chronically anxious, or in pain, or depressed, or angry all report feeling better after they incorporate a mindfulness practice.
But what is this practice really? How do you do it? For how long? There are many questions and they can keep us from even trying this mysterious habit.
My practical introduction – and the one that got me started – came from the book Mindsight by Dan Siegel M/D. Dr. Siegel has worked with hundreds of patients, and he offers a great deal of neurobiology along with his assertion that mindfulness can offer healing for our hurting and anxious minds.
He gives a clear plan, which is not much different from others I have read, but his common sense approach reminds me that this is not an esoteric practice – it is a way of calming my jumping mind – not by ordering it to stop, but by giving it the gentle guidance of paying attention and feeding it with breath.
Siegel suggests starting by sitting up straight, feet on the floor, hands in the lap. Then you simply begin noticing your breath. No need to push or huff, just watch your breath as it comes and goes.
When you notice that your mind has wandered, or become lost in a thought or a memory, or planning your next few hours, just come back to the breath.
That’s it folks. That’s mindful meditation.
He also gives a lovely illustration that the mind is like the ocean – with lots of action and swells on the surface, but deep down there is a quiet stillness. That still place is your observing mind, which is always present. However we don’t access it very often. One of the benefits of this quiet time is begin to see that our thoughts, our feelings, and even our pain come and go. Nothing is permanent. It is like watching clouds. We can begin to observe that we are more than what we think or plan or feel. We exist in a much deeper way than these transitory states.
We can begin to observe our thoughts without getting caught in them.
One of my clients reported that she observed herself in a difficult situation. She got some bad medical news, and she could begin to “see” the spiral. “It’s going to get worse. I’m not getting any better even though I have been doing so much work. Why bother? Nothing I do makes any difference.” On and on it could go – but she realized these were just her thoughts. She stopped for a minute and said to herself:” You feel scared dear one. Take a minute. This is hard.” She did some slow breathing and came back to herself. Then. She told me, she decided to go out and take a little walk. As she walked she said to herself,
“You’re walking. All is not lost. You aren’t in pain today. You can feel the sun. This is all good.”
She came back to the present moment, and then found she could absorb the medical news without collapsing.
She has been doing a mindfulness practice for ten minutes every morning. She has been constant with it for over eight months.
It is the constancy more than the length of time, the willingness to sit with yourself and breath and allow the feelings or thoughts, and keep coming back to the breath that builds the space for you to feel what you feel and let it go.
I am suggesting you give it a try. Start with something manageable – maybe just five minutes. And do that every day. If you want to do more, do five minutes in the morning, and before bed. Don’t stress yourself that you’re not doing it “right.”
It’s just breathing and being present.
Let me know how it goes – and what you begin to see in your life as a result.