Mindfulness in the Modern World
Do you ever find yourself wrapped up in a swirl of thoughts and hours or days later realize you don't even know what happened with your time? I've definitely experienced this, time and time again. My thoughts, for years, have controlled my emotions and therefore, my stress levels and health. A few months ago, in the midst of family health issues, I began to realize how much my reactive emotions were controlling my ability to be present and find happiness and peace... Essentially, I noticed how much I was creating more chaos in my own world, regardless of external factors. I've spent time on several meditation retreats, so this wasn't the first time I've actually heard this perspective, but it's the first time that I truly saw the role I was playing in my own discomfort, anxiety, and stress-related health issues (inflammation, acne, bloating... the list goes on!). We all have stressful situations in our lives, situations that are not in our control, but I began to realize that my perspective, my mindless words and actions, triggered even MORE stress. This catalyzed a process of both deep introspection and reflection, but also made me wonder what little things am I doing (or not doing) that may be making it even more difficult to relax and not be caught up in a world of whirling thoughts. I became aware of how much time I spent on my phone (or facebook) when I was around others who were trying to interact with me, I noticed how much worse my anxiety was after I had my cup of morning coffee... I took note of everything that left me feeling worse and less in my own power and I slowly began creating shifts to better help me live more in the present world and not in a world of projected worry and fear (the storyline that can often control our lives without ever becoming a reality!).
I was reading the book Self-Observation by Red Hawk, and he described that modern living has many people "out of balance." What does Red Hawk mean? He goes on to explain that we have three components to our being - a mental, physical, and spiritual side. In present life, the majority of people spend more time in their mental world and less time nourishing the physical and spiritual aspects of their being, which he believes has landed us in this frenzy. When you begin implementing mindfulness practices, consider the balance that Red Hawk talks about and which areas of your life you're deficient in.
Over time, with regular practice of awareness (and regularly falling off the wagon... which is okay and is part of the journey), I've been able to develop and implement a more mindful life with what I've found to work, but each person is different. Below are a few of the practices I've found I can't live without and try to implement every day.
- What you eat or drink may genuinely be affecting you (it's amazing how many people I talk with who don't believe this)! I gave the example of coffee earlier, but this can be as simple as realizing you aren't drinking enough water or taking note of specific food reactions like gas and bloating. This is a risky subject to breeze through, so I have to say it's easy to fall into patterns of guilt, rigidity, and rules around food. The only rule I've found that has applied repeatedly and worked for me is to simply tune into my body and emotions and find what does and doesn't feel right, making it a perpetual play of curiosity.
- Movement: In this day and age we have over-thought, over-analyzed, and over-worked ourselves into a strung-out existence, and the one thing I've found to usually snap me out of this is to move my body in any way imaginable. Jumping jacks, running outside & working up a sweat, playing with dogs, hiking... Even doing the dishes or vacuuming. Anything to actively engage my body with the physical world and pull myself away from thoughts and into more balance.
- Stop comparing and competing: I realized that so much of what has given me anxiety through the years was created by measuring myself next to others. Fear of what others may think, worry that I may not be good enough... We all know this drill, and knowing that we ALL experience this type of comparison and competition not only set me free, but it's helped me cultivate a level of compassion for others that I'd never experienced before, simply by knowing we are all suffering. I thought to myself, what if I created my own standards for self-love and acceptance, with regular reminders in practice. I believe it's okay to make this your own game and to let go of the need for perfection (thank god!).
- Journal, write, paint, cook, garden: Find activities and practices that are fun and easily accessible. If you are a planner, schedule it into your daily routine; if you're more spontaneous like me, have a notebook and pen around when you feel the need to write or have a space in your home where you can leave your canvas and paint out, so that it's easy to pick up when the spirit hits. Either way, planner or not, the point is to create time, space, and permission to spend moments with yourself doing what you love each day.
- Meditation: Meditation. Meditation is becoming more mainstream, but a lot of people don't realize that it's a rather fluid term. You can still maintain your religious practice AND meditate. You can still be wild and free AND meditate. You can still drop an F-bomb and practice mindfulness. You don't have to give up ANY of who you are, and in fact, it helps us become more clear about who we are. Meditation's power is in helping your brain practice focus, awareness, and peace amidst the constant chatter in our minds and chaos in our external world. It takes away the control and influence. You can sit, you can lay down, you can walk, or you can RUN and still harness the power of your mind into clarity and more peace through meditation. I have a space devoted entirely to my sitting meditation where I know I can be for 15 minutes, in quiet, breathing deeply and shifting my perspective. One can sit for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour; there is no timer when you're catching your breath and listening to the whispers.
- Just let go: If a day of practice is missed, it's no big deal. One of my brilliant meditation teachers once told me that the art of mindfulness practice isn't in how perfectly you practice, but in how often you bring yourself back into the practice when you veer off track. I'm a perfectionist by nature, so when I fall off the wagon of mindfulness practice I find myself saying "what's the point if I can't do this right?" There are no rules - there is no "right" - there is just recommitting to what you know works for you. Every single morning you wake up is an opportunity to recommit to this path, and if you miss it on some mornings don't add guilt or pressure to your day. Just remind yourself of your goals and reconnect to what drew you to wanting a break from the influence of stress and anxiety in the first place. Find what you love, find what works, and bring it into your life without apology.
The ideas offered in this list may not be what works for you, but I simply wanted to share it to inspire others to find their own entry point into a less stressful day-to-day life. I encourage everyone to play with this - there's no need for it to be serious or heavy - and find your own entry point.
If you find yourself having trouble quieting the noise in your mind, connecting with your body and its needs, or finding motivation to shift your life, there are options to help make this a more enjoyable process. Supportive therapies can help if you find yourself struggling to make progress. "Mood nutritherapy," specifically, is the use of diet, lifestyle practices, consideration of environmental toxin overload, amino acids, botanicals, and other nutritive supplements combined uniquely for each person to address glitches or road blocks on the road to achieving mental clarity, physical health, and overall peace. Glitches like impaired sleep, poor focus at work, difficulty in intimate relationships, fear of public engagements, may be solved simply through addressing basic nutrient and amino deficiencies or imbalances. In the right instances, these simple additions can often help individuals return to a baseline of easier functioning, making mindfulness less of a struggle and more of a place of refuge. If you're curious, contact Dr. Jacqueline or schedule an appointment to discover your own blend for 'what works.'