My introduction to mindfulness was terrible to put it mildly. It occurred during my master’s program, I had a frou-frou hippie adjunct professor who overstepped his professional boundaries with me to the point that I considered walking away from the program and going a different direction in life (during this time I ordered books on Amazon to study for the law school admissions test). Just so there isn’t a question, he overstepped by getting too personal during supervision sessions trying to elicit inappropriate emotional responses (nothing sexual). I remember calling my mom before going to his office to get a pep talk because the whole situation was severely uncomfortable for me (he was best buddies with the department chair so I didn’t bother reporting the situation).
Why I’m cautious around raisons
All this to say, this was the guy who introduced mindfulness to me via the raison exercise. He had those of us in the class put a raison in our mouths and very mindfully eat it (this is gross, don’t try it even if you like raisons, they weren’t meant to be eaten this way). In my mind, I connected mindful practice to this guy and everything he stood for and I wanted no part of it. I had a running joke with my advisor in my doctoral program about how much I disliked mindfulness (it all came down to that dang raison). It took me years to realize how necessary and important mindful practices were to mental health.
Now, I talk about mindfulness with my clients all the time. As a society we have been trained to always be thinking ahead, contemplating what might happen and how we should react, we rarely take a moment to think about the present. Let me paint a visual for you. Have you ever watched a boxing match? If so, you have seen the fighters dancing around back and forth waiting for the next punch so they can move out of the way before taking it to the side of the head. Our minds are dancing around like these fighters much of the time. It isn’t until we take a moment to engage in mindful practice that we realize how much energy our mind is wasting and how much we are missing out on.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is often linked with meditation. I have had people shy away from mindfulness because they believe it is linked to Buddhism or some other non-western, non-Christian religion. This is a misconception. Mindfulness and meditation are not intrinsically related to any type of religious practice (although they are often combined with religious practices). Mindfulness is nothing more than the act of being mindful. What does that mean? Let me give you some examples of times when you (and I) have practiced mindfulness without even meaning too.
· Your morning coffee: Have you ever prepared your coffee and then taken a moment to smell it before taking the first sip? I know I have, especially when the fall coffees come out and they have that spicy earthy scent. In that moment, when you sniffed your coffee before drinking it, you were experiencing a moment of mindfulness. You weren’t thinking about anything that was going to happen later in the day.
· The bunny in my backyard: My backyard has become somewhat of a habitat for bunnies. We tend to always have at least one out there. The other day after dinner, I noticed a bunny sitting close to the steps off the back deck. It was close enough that I could look through the door and watch it eat grass. I stood there for the longest time just watching it (my husband found this funny for some reason). I was having an unplanned moment of mindfulness in which I was in tune with the bunny and nature.
· Your go to Bible verse: Have you ever been feeling stressed and started repeating a favorite bible verse to aid you in calming down? If so, congratulations you have engaged in mindfulness and meditation. You have harnessed the power of your mind to refocus from something negative to something positive and life affirming.
Does the bible have anything to say about mindful meditation?
The Bible mentions meditation in some capacity (especially in Psalms) 23 times. What separates the meditation mentioned in the Bible from the popularly discussed Buddhist meditations, is that Biblical meditation is purposeful. I have never been able to understand why anyone would try to meditate to completely clear their mind. As human beings we are always experiencing thoughts as long as we are conscious, even if you can make that stop for a short period of time, it is going to start again (and exactly what have you gained? Enlightment? About what?). Ellen DeGeneres made a funny joke about meditation in one of her comedy specials. She was talking about how she was trying to clear her mind in yoga and all she kept thinking about was the jingle “And I don’t have to go right now” from the commercial for a bladder control product. The joke was super funny and illustrated perfectly what happens when you try to stop the brains natural process of thinking.
Example Meditations from Psalms:
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises (Psalm 119:148)
I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done (Psalm 143:5)
These two examples from Psalms perfectly illustrate biblical mindful meditation. The Psalmist isn’t talking about clearing his mind, he is talking about focusing his mind on God and meditating on what God had already done and has promised to do. To me this is much more productive than working toward blankness (am I wrong?).
Adding Mindfulness to your day
Adding mindfulness to your day is not hard, all you have to do is learn how to appreciate the little moments on a deeper level. Anytime, you stop thinking about the future and just enjoy the present moment you are practicing mindfulness.
When working with clients who experience anxiety, I have often told them to practice giving themselves one five-minute break per day (sometimes we have to start with one or two and build up). During these five minutes, they aren’t to think about the past or the future, they are to just focus on the present moment. In most cases, nothing in your life will change all that much during a five-minute block. These five minutes can be used in a multitude of different ways. Here are some examples:
· Meditate on a favorite bible verse
· Think of five things you are grateful for
· Take in the beauty of your surroundings (you are living in God’s creation after all)
· Enjoy a snack, focusing on the experience of eating
· Draw something
· Take a walk
· Close your eyes and focus on your breathing
I could go on and on. The goal is to show you that adding mindfulness to your day doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming.
Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness (The Good Part)
· Reduced Worry- Think about it, when you are worrying, very rarely are you focusing on the present moment. Worry is generally future based. We worry about the health and safety of our families, our finances, what people will think, etc. When you are practicing mindfulness, your mind is in a controlled state focusing on the present moment or some preplanned meditative statement (such as a bible verse or self-affirming quote). Our brains aren’t great at doing two things at once, so when you are practicing mindfulness, you are giving yourself a break from worry.
· Increased focus and memory- Focus and memory are inherently intertwined. If you can’t focus to take in information, you aren’t going to remember it later (makes sense, right?). When you are experiencing stress and anxiety, your brain is going a million miles an hour and it is hard to focus on anything. Adding moments of mindfulness into your day, however brief, will help slow the cycle of your thoughts so you can experience increased concentration. With this increased focus and concentration, you may well find that your memory has improved as well (who knew?).
· Relationship Satisfaction- Relationships, no matter how good, can be stressful at times. One main reason for stress in relationships is communication breakdown. Have you ever thought your partner was on the same wavelength as you only to discover somewhere down the line you were miles apart? It happens in the best of relationships. The main reason for this is that instead of listening fully for comprehension, we jump to conclusions. We don’t do this because we lack caring for our partners. We do this because our minds are already occupied with a jumbled mess of thoughts, feelings, ideas, and worries. When we take time to harness our mind through mindfulness practices, we are able to eliminate some of the clutter and create space for the important things.
Now that you know what mindfulness is and you have an understanding of how to practice it, can you think of at least two ways to include mindfulness into your life? Practicing mindfulness everyday can help you feel calmer and in control which can lead to anxiety reduction (it’s a win all the way around, no raisons necessary!)