“When you pull your brain back from tomorrow and heart back from yesterday, you find peace in today.”
Mindfulness is the mental practice of being present at the current point in time. Rather than holding onto past resentments or stressing out about things that need to be done sometime in the future, we instead focus our thoughts on how we’re feeling in the immediate moment, the sounds in our environment, and the sensations within our body. While its origins are in Eastern and Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness has now been observed as a foundational principle within wellness and healing communities in the Western world.
When I was first introduced to mindfulness meditation I really struggled. I was putting this pressure on myself to relax when I had so much to be stressed about. Those who had been practicing mindfulness made it seem like a simple concept to master. You just do it. Be mindful, turn your brain off, and live in the moment. I tried guided meditation and found myself irritated with the facilitator's voice or waiting in anticipation for the session to finish. They would list body parts to focus on and I thought surely, we had gone through them all, but unrelentingly I’d be asked to bring my awareness to the sensation of my earlobes and would almost lose it.
If you’ve had a similar experience, you may have thought the ability to practice mindfulness meditation was just something some people “have”, and you aren’t one of them. Our thoughts are a part of who we are and trying to change our patterns, removing negative self-talk, and turning off the internal noise is counterintuitive.
Practicing mindfulness is just that, a practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Allow yourself to try it out in various settings, and at different times of the day. You might prefer to do it when you’re alone or be partial to joining a mindfulness group. There are guided meditation videos and phone apps you could try out. Mindfulness may not come naturally to you at first and it can take several attempts and multiple methods before
something clicks. Don’t wait until you’re on edge to try clearing your mind. Give yourself five minutes before you get out of bed to do some deep breathing exercises. Put the devices away during meals and focus on the smell, how each bite tastes, and how it makes you feel. When your mind starts to divert to the day ahead of you or think about a disagreement you had with your partner yesterday, don’t judge yourself or worry that you’ve been unsuccessful at being mindful. Intentionally bring your thoughts back to the present moment. When we’re first learning, it can be difficult to clear our minds in an unpleasant environment, so find somewhere safe and comfortable. Once you’ve had some practice, you can create a comfort bubble of your own by implementing these techniques wherever you are.
Focusing too much on the past can lead to resentment and depression. We cannot go back in time no matter how much we’d like a second chance. Being consumed by the things we wish we had done differently can prevent us from moving forward. It is important not to ignore these events, so work through them. Journaling is a way to acknowledge the things that have hurt you and put into words how you have been affected. If you’re bothered by something that involves another person, write a letter. You can choose to send it to them or just keep it to yourself. Consider your past experiences as lessons and learn from them. You will make better choices in the future and know your past does not define you. Give yourself permission to forgive and move on.
At the same time, spending too much time thinking about what is going to happen in the future can give us anxiety. What lies ahead is uncertain, and that can be difficult to accept. When you find yourself in fear of something that hasn’t happened yet, practicing mindfulness can help you appreciate what is happening at the moment you are in. Use the lessons we’ve learned from our past mistakes to identify how we’d like to react in the future. Take action today to prepare and embrace the time we have right now. There is no sense in wasting the time we have today tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.
Mindfulness isn’t something you have to perfect and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Just being aware of negative thoughts and deliberately altering your perspective on them can have an impact on your mental health and overall wellness. I realized that my negativity bias was preventing me from experiencing the benefits. When I let go of my reservations and opened myself to the possibility of changing my way of thinking, I was finally able to really feel the peace and healing that mindfulness brings. Try it yourself!
Katey is a former intern with the CHAN Project, who provided valuable time working with the team on our Grief Circles, content copy, and was part of our Media Design team. She has shared multiple stories with the team, to which we will be sharing along the way. Watch for more to come on Katey's Blog entries with the CHAN Project.