Mindfulness is defined as paying attention, on purpose, with kindness. When we take time to develop and practice mindfulness by watching our thoughts, feelings and
sensations rather than react to them, we create space between the two stimuli. This gives us the power to choose how we respond and can help save our lives.
Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Imagine one is driving, they hear the “ping” of the phone nearby (not terribly hard to imagine, right?). The first response might be to reach for it. Rather than acting, this practiced person senses the urge to take a peek, but instead takes a breath and stays driving. They might do a body scan, feeling the sensations of the back’s contact with the seat, feel the air on their skin, notice the rise and fall of the sensation. Fully attentive while driving, one can respond to the happenings surrounding themselves, staying in the moment and safe.
Addiction and Mindfulness
If one tends to participate in self-harming rituals (possibilities include, over/under eating, cutting, taking drugs or alcohol, nicotine, sex, video games or technology) this practice is greatly beneficial at times of craving or while breaking habits. A triggering event might take place: An interaction, a sensation in the body, stress or worry. In that moment, one finds themself craving the object which makes the situation feel more in control.
When this happens, we use mindfulness.
We can watch the craving thought, feel the craving sensations in the body, notice our emotions at the time, and choose how to respond. To do this we must be willing to pause, to sit, to feel these sensations. It takes a dedicated, not time-consuming, mindfulness practice. You can be mindful doing anything and everything! Walk the dog, converse, sit formally, all with the intention of paying attention on purpose, with kindness.
Not participating in this act of self-harming can save one’s life. Seriously.
Suicide and Mindfulness
Another, even more serious, version of self-harming is suicide. When suicidal thoughts occur, which they do at times, one can develop the space to recognize the thought as just that, a thought. Or maybe it comes in the form of a sensation, pausing and feeling into this sensation. Over and over again, we practice this. We feel sensation without responding to them, we watch our thoughts and let them go. Doing this, we create the opportunity to choose our actions. We create space and time to reach out, connecting with someone, or list out our values.
This space can give us life.
Using mindfulness, we can deactivate the amygdala stimulation (fight, flight, freeze) and are more able to activate the prefrontal cortex where reasoning takes place. This allows us to respond rather than react and is calming to the nervous system.
There are several ways of developing our capacity to recognize thoughts, feel strong sensations without reacting to them, and labeling our moment to moment experiences.
- Meditation: One can meditate focusing on the breath, sensations, sounds, or a visualization.
- Movement: Walking, yoga, Tai Chi are all meditative movement focused on reestablishing the connection between brain and body.
Treat meditation like coffee… Do it everyday!
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