Ever feel like life is passing you by? Mindfulness brings you back to the present, and allows you to be fully engaged in your life. You probably find that most of your thoughts are of the past or the future. You may feel in your head most of the day, meaning you are not attentive to what is going on around you. You are thinking and calculating and planning and criticizing.
This is a natural tendency in this culture. You do not pay attention. If you are constantly distracted, you don't have to really feel. Chances are you are pretty numb all the time. This resistance to feeling anything is what leads to workaholism, binge eating, alcoholism, and all other addictions. You choose feeling nothing over the fear of feeling bad. The problem is you never get to feel good, either.
Mindfulness gives you your life back. Being aware of your external surroundings and your internal experiences allows you to be here now. Get off the mouse wheel. Stop. Breathe.
STEP 1: Tolerate the quiet. Sit in a room with nothing to distract you. Be comfortable, lounge. Have a notebook and pen next to you. Do this the first day for 5 minutes. Write down common thoughts you notice in your head as they come. See if you can identify any feelings, and even better, if you notice where you feel them in your body.
Each day build on this time by 5 minutes. By the end of the week, you should be able to just sit for at least thirty minutes and listen to yourself. Keep writing--this is actually a good way of processing your thoughts. It is good to take this list after the exercise and journal deeper on the initial thoughts.
Turn the radio off when you are driving. The car can be a great place to check in with yourself and practice mindfulness, since you are typically alone. It is good to see what is going on in your head as you drive to work or drive home.
STEP 2: Meditate. I always resisted this because I thought it was pointless and unproductive. I cannot express to you what a valuable tool it is to be able to release your thoughts or, ultimately, stop them for a while. Most people struggle with some level of anxiety, and learning how to meditate would benefit them greatly.
Your thoughts run, like a ticker tape from a news show, constantly in your head. Try right now to not have a thought. It is so difficult to stop the thoughts. There are a variety of meditation techniques available--explore them to find what works best for you. Even when you are in your daily life, you will begin to use your meditation techniques to bring an inner calm amid the chaos.
Your constant thoughts are serving a purpose. You escape the moment with your thoughts. You decrease anxiety (or so you think) by constantly reminding yourself what you need to get done.
If you are thinking about what you are doing a year from now (or two weeks, or 30 minutes), who is living right now? The future will take care of itself. You get a false sense of control when you worry about the future. You have no control. All the planning in the world cannot control exactly what will play out. The future you is just as capable as the current you of handling whatever comes up.
It feels like falling when you release your worry. It feels like you are letting go of a rope and falling off a cliff. But that rope is a snake. Worry makes you live as though terrible things are happening (you feel the real stress), and most of these things never happen. You won't know they are not going to happen until you die. Do you want to wait until then to stop worrying?
STEP 3: Engage your senses. What do you see right now (look away from your computer)? What colors are around you. Is there anything beautiful in your surroundings? What does it look like outside?
What do you smell? Notice the smells when you enter a new room, or a coworker passes you wearing perfume. Notice the smell of dinner tonight. Smell your spouse when you cuddle them. Smell your child's hair. Even smell your dog's breath. Smells, just like emotions, do not all have to be good to be honored.
What do you hear? Right now I hear the whirring of my computer. You may hear lots of people having conversation, phones ringing, laughter, etc. During dinner, pay attention to the sound of the fork clinking against the plate. Take off the Ipod and tune in to your life.
What do you taste? Obviously this sense is most fully engaged during meals. I'm a huge advocate for mindful eating to enhance the dining experience. People typically only taste the first couple of bites and the last bite or two of whatever they are eating. You tune out in between. Try to really taste as much of your next meal as possible.
What do you feel? Is your tea hot? Is your blanket soft? Are you feeling hot or cold, comfortable or rigid, tired or alert? This can be emotional as well as physical for this purpose. Emotions also tend to have a physical sensation in the body. Mindfulness is all about the senses--use them to the fullest.
STEP 4: Relaxation is productive. Our culture doesn't tend to honor relaxation. It is usually associated with words like lazy, unproductive, even the feeling of getting fatter. Consider, though, how you are doing without taking care to relax. You are burning out. You are getting sick more often. You are tired, anxious, and depressed.
You have to take care of yourself. You are your own best friend and caretaker. Pretend you are your own best parent possible. Wrap yourself in a blanket and sip hot tea. Take the proverbial bubble bath (with candles and classical music). Take a nap. You need to schedule this in like a task on your list. But really embrace it, really do it up right. Practice mindfulness during your relaxation in order to really savor it. You will feel recharged and full of energy. You must make this weekly, if not daily.
Self awareness is not easy at first, but it is such a gift. It makes you feel like you are awake for the first time in your life. You connect to yourself, you come to know and understand yourself. You figure out who you are, not who you've been told you are. You begin to value your opinion above all others, while still respecting a variety of views. You are moving back into yourself.
You can see in babies and some young children what it was like to be fully engaged in mindfulness. Babies are so present, they can be entertained just by exploring their own hand. The world is so new and so amazing to them. Children jump up off the couch and start dancing because that is what they feel like doing. What do you do when you hear a song you like? Well, I hope you dance, but I doubt it. It is time to return to your natural state of mindfulness. Do it now or risk dying before you ever really live.
Tips for Mindfulness and Inner Peace:
* Embrace the quiet
* Release thoughts of worry
* Meditate daily
* Turn off your thoughts as needed
* Use your senses
* Prioritize relaxation
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