mindfulness

Out of Your Head and Into Your Soul

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Do you fear that you’re missing out on life?

Are you waiting for something? To be loved? To be successful? To be happy?

Do you often feel like life is simply carrying you along, as something beyond your control?

 

In ancient Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who caught sight of his reflection in a pond one day and became completely enamored with it. It is said that he lay down by the water to gaze at his face, growing obsessed with his own image. Since he was unable to obtain the object of his desire, he died where he lay, overcome by grief. Sounds pathetic, but in many instances it’s a frighteningly accurate metaphor. The term “narcissist” is derived from this myth, and it tellingly refers to a person who is self-enamored and self-preoccupied, often to an obsessive and dangerous degree.

In his novella The Beast in the Jungle, author Henry James introduces us to exactly such a character: John Marcher, an extremely self-centered young man who is convinced that he has been selected by fate for a special event that will occur in his lifetime. He encounters a sensitive and intelligent young woman, May Bartram, who listens to John’s theory concerning his personal foreboding and conviction that he’s destined for greatness. May offers her friendship and agrees to watch and wait with John until this special fate comes to fruition. For many years, John sits idly and refuses to let May get close to him, ignoring the love of a good woman and killing time as he waits for his “spectacular fate”.

The story unravels to become a tale of lost life and lost love; it is only after May dies that John realizes that he’s missed most of his life—and the opportunity for true love—while waiting for a rare, strange, and self-concocted “event” that never happens. By living in his head and focusing on a fantasy, he missed the true meaning of life. He missed out on friendship, love, purpose, adventure, discovery, and self-growth. Gambling for nothing, he lost everything.

Narcissists typically do not empathize nor can they appreciate the beauty of the life that surrounds them. They exist at the opposite end of the spectrum as opposed to mindfulness. John “woke up” when May died; this was the emotional event that triggered his realization—too late—that life extended beyond himself.

Mindfulness is about exactly that: waking up to the world and connecting with life.

. . .

“By breaking down our sense of self-importance, all we lose is a parasite that has long infected our minds. What we gain in return is freedom, openness of mind, spontaneity, simplicity, altruism: all qualities inherent in happiness.” –Mathieu Ricard

. . .

As a teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the University of Massachusetts’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, Jon Kabat-Zinn says:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

By cultivating conscious awareness of the present moment, we extract ourselves from our own toxic thought patterns. By learning to sense and see and appreciate life, we need not regret an unfulfilled existence. Mindfulness is a practice that can immediately ground us back into the world, helping us delve within ourselves while simultaneously shifting us beyond ourselves.

As mindfulness is all about “living in the now”, the idea suitably circles back to the NOW philosophy:

  • Notice.

Look around you and experience the life and love that surrounds you. It is right beside you! If you haven’t seen it, open your eyes and your mind. It’s easy to remove those mental blinders and barriers, as long as you truly want to.

  • Opportunities.

Seek out and you shall find opportunities to grow and connect with life without judging yourself. By staying in the moment with those who are nearest and dearest to us, we can cultivate compassion, love, kindness, and morality within us—and then extend this compassionate attitude towards others.

  • Within.

By becoming more mindful, you will achieve a stronger inner peace. It is foremost beneficial to you, and then—from you—it explodes tenfold out into the world around you. You can be deeply affected by the people around you, and can gain insight from and power over their thoughts; never forget that this is mutual—so work to make a positive impact.

. . .

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” –James Baraz

. . .

Not sure where to start? Dr. Kabat-Zinn lists the following simple exercises as key components to mastering mindfulness:

  • Pay attention to your breathing in the present moment.
  • Notice what you’re sensing right now—use all of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste? Increase your awareness of your body’s physical sensations to better ground yourself in the moment.
  • Understand that your thoughts and emotions are like clouds. They will come and go and will always pass through; they need not define you.
  • Keep a look-out for negative thought patterns so that you recognize them and then can make changes.

Get out of your head and get into your soul. Don’t waste life—live it. And begin living it now. If you do it now, you will always have time.

. . .

“In this moment, there is plenty of time. In this moment, you are precisely as you should be. In this moment, there is infinite possibility.” –Victoria Moran

mindfulness

Choose Joy: Using Mindfulness to Increase Joy in Your Life

  • Do you want more joy in your life?
  • Do you dwell on the negative in your day?
  • Do you want to live more in the present moment?

“For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-lived life.”

                                          Melville

Leah, a middle-aged administrative assistant, had a history of depression. She had experienced problems in her past relationships and isolated herself because she felt like a loser. She did not want to repeat that pattern, but her new partner began to complain that she was always negative.

Leah sought help to learn mindfulness to help her become aware of her negative thought patterns. She tended to apply a negative filter to her thinking. Cognitive psychologists have found that this type of despondent thinking is prevalent in those with depression and can be changed. Negative filter thinking refers to when we focus on the negative and discount the positive. The brain is like glue for negative and Teflon for positive. Leah started to notice the Teflon effect when she was given compliments or positive attention, and she observed the frequency of sticky negative thoughts.

Leah realized that she learned this way of thinking as she grew up and the fact that she could change her thinking and behavior gave her hope. Many people were raised in households with little joy and ample negative thought and behavioral patterns. Our models for thinking about the world are formed at young ages and become unconscious. By gently shining a light on inner-injurious thoughts without judging herself, Leah was able to become aware of why she felt and acted as she did. Through her practice of mindfulness, she could live more fully in the present moment.

By slowing down and experiencing the moment it is possible to feel more alive, and you’ll find that sensory perceptions are heightened. It is too easy to rush through life and not take a few minutes to enjoy the simple things. Leah began a practice of staying in the present moment and experiencing joy in simple acts like washing dishes. She let herself take in the lemony aroma of the soap. She slowed down for a few special moments to experience the feeling of the soap on her hands.

By developing mindfulness skills she learned to be able to focus on the now and the pleasure of the moment. Joyful moments began to be sticky while her negative thinking became more like Teflon. Since thought and feelings are meant to come and go, she practiced letting go of  the detrimental glue of her negative preoccupation. As her focus changed to appreciation and celebration of life, she began to notice joy, love, and miracles in the everyday.

As Leah’s inner experience began to change, she smiled more and spoke more positively about life. Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman has shown that couples who thrive over time have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive interactions over negative ones. Leah’s relationship improved as her negative filter weakened and she could expand her experience of  joy. Research has shown that mindfulness practice can help those suffering with depression. Symptoms of depression are reduced with a regular practice and parts of the brain associated with negative arousal shrink in size. Volume and activity in brain centers associated with calm awareness are increased.

Choosing Joy

  • Savoring moments of joy, like holding the hand of a baby, playing with a puppy, or stepping on fall leaves becomes a thought habit and the brain likes to repeats habitual ways of thinking.
  • The feeling of joy is a practice; As you practice, your brain wires neural networks to fire in the direction of joyful thinking.
  • As neuroscientist Dr. Wayne Drevets observed, “In the brain practice makes permanent.” Fortunately because of neuorplasticity, we can reroute our brains in the direction of gladness at any age. 
  • Notice if your thoughts are Teflon for positive and glue for the negative. Imagine letting thoughts pass through your mind like clouds overhead.
  • Imagine a neural railway and that you’re laying track toward enticing stations.
  • Look for joy in everyday things; open your eyes and imagination. Practice staying present in your body. Learn to focus as you experience moments in the day. Let your attention come into your senses as Leah did by smelling the soap when washing dishes and feeling her hands in the water.
  • Develop a simple practice of mindfulness and practice it daily to increase your ability to feel joy in the moment. So much of life is spent replaying what happened in the past or imagining what might happen in the future that people do not fully experience the present.
  • As you practice mindfulness you begin to realize that you can choose joy in the moment by getting away from repeating negative thought patterns and using your senses to fully experience the gifts of the present moment.

Your Turn

Take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply using your diaphragm. Let your attention scan your body. Notice places of tightness or tension. Imagine that the tension is a knot and in your mind release the knot gently. Let it go. Feel the tension loosen.

Imagine a time when you were very happy. Allow yourself to experience that feeling. How does your body change as you recall this memory? Open your eyes and look around the room until you see something that gives you pleasure—a picture, a book, flowers. Allow your attention to linger on that sensation.

Train your brain to go to places of peace and joy. Set an intention to focus on joy instead of attack thoughts. As you do this you may experience small changes in your mood. Over time, your ability to choose joy and peace of mind will increase.

You will find if you practice this throughout the day, even for a moment at a time, you will see objects in more detail and begin to experience peaceful joy.

There is no right way to practice noticing your past thoughts and recreating them in the present. Keep trying this until it feels right for you. This is a very simple practice, however most people do not do it long enough to really make a difference. Make a commitment to set a time to practice. You can set a chime to ring on your phone as a reminder. You can do this alone or with others.

mindfulness

 

Change Your Story, Change Your Life
by Dr. Linda Miles

Do you feel as if someone else is writing the story of your life? Learn to program your brain to live with purpose. Change Your Story: Change Your Brain is a guide to living more fully in the present moment. As you live with greater intention, you can literally change the structure of your brain.

Click here to learn more.