The Challenge of Mindfulness

Earlier this week, I had decided to choose gratitude as a spiritual practice to focus on for 4 days, but I realized that gratitude would be easy for me.  I have no difficulty expressing gratitude daily.  I realize every day that my life could be harder than it is, so I never forget to say thank you, and to be grateful for what I have—friends, family, food, a home, and each day I rise from sleep.  So, I decided not to choose gratitude, because I practice it every day. Out of three spiritual practices—gratitude, Examen, and mindfulness, I am not very good with authentic mindfulness.  I use the word mindful or mindfulness all the time, and I even have a vague idea of what it means on some level, but I do not think I can say that I truly practice it in my life.  Therefore, I chose mindfulness for my challenge.

Here is a summary of my four days of mindfulness practice:

One the first day, I had a lot of trouble being able to focus throughout the day in general.  I decided that I was going to start practicing mindfulness, and I was going to begin by making a list of everything I thought constituted being mindful.  So, my list included the following: do a little yoga for 20 minutes, meditate for 15 minutes, sit outside to enjoy nature, sit still and silent, pray my rosary, and be observant of everything going on inside me and around me.  As my ambitious list would tell you, I wanted to do everything, and I was working with a vague definition of mindfulness.  I felt that I needed to do this right; otherwise I would fail—fail myself, and fail the assignment.  Needless to say, since I was working with several ideas of what it meant to be mindful, I tried to do everything, but accomplished nothing.  My mindfulness quest on day one was overwhelming, and ended up not being very mindful or restful.  At the end of the day, I had a headache from thinking about being mindful, and decided that the next day would be better.

On day two, I woke up with a renewed enthusiasm.  I was going to be mindful perfectly.  I had carved out time for mindfulness exercises, and I was determined to make an effort to do at least one mindfulness exercise twice a day.  I chose to do 10 minutes of meditation in the morning before I go to work, and 10 minutes of meditation before bedtime; finally a plan, and I was feeling good about myself.  I used a meditation video2, and never got through 10 minutes.  After about 2 minutes, I found myself dwelling over every thought that came up.  I not only dwelt on the thoughts, but in some cases, would get angry, or agitated, or anxious.  I think I even ended up talking out aloud during my second 10-minute meditation, because I felt I had to correct a mental thought before I continued.  For some reason, it was almost impossible to internalize what I had to say.  So, it is the end of the day, and although I did not feel as overwhelmed as day one, I still felt that the idea of being mindful had escaped me once again.

On day three, I slept in late because it was a rare day off, and I lay in bed just noticing how comfortable I was at that moment.  My feet were warm, my room was quiet, my wall clock was ticking, and there seemed to be a beetle on my window trying to find a way in; but my thoughts on these things went no further than just an observation.  I was not trying to go anywhere, solve any problems or do anything.  I was not bothered.  I just observed, and in a way, enjoyed the present moment.  Then I got up at some point with a renewed mission to practice mindfulness again.  I had quite a few errands to run and did not seem to have the time to stop for a quick mediation using the YouTube video, so I decided to just get on with my day.  Before bedtime, I did my mediation and even added a short 20 minutes of yoga.  I felt good about that, and thought I was getting a hang of being mindful, but before I drifted off to sleep, I could not help thinking of how I began my day: lying in bed just noticing random moments of my morning and thinking about how nice that felt.  It seemed to be the only time of the day, I felt peaceful, and connected.  I thought to myself, “how curious is that?  What was that?”  It seems like it should be a no-brainer since I had just being reading all about mindfulness and watching videos about it.  I fell asleep actually just smiling at the thought of how much I enjoyed my morning.

On day four, the last day of my attempt at mindfulness practice for this assignment, I got up and out of bed and for the first time, noticed what my feet felt like when they touched the carpet.  It was random, I know, but yet, it made me like my feet.  I said to myself, “my feet are strong, pain-free, and I am grateful for my feet.  My feet will get me where I need to go today, and I smiled.” My day went on as usual, but I seemed to be a little happier.  I even had a spring in my step on my way to work.  Also, for the first time in days, I was not trying to plot and plan my mindfulness, and that made me feel free.  I figured I might just give up on being mindful for now, and choose something I know how to do well.  With that thought, I ended my day by watching some more videos, and doing some in-depth web searches on mindfulness, and that is when it clicked.  I read in an online medical article3, that mindfulness is defined as “a non-judgmental focus on things happening in the present moment”.  Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn4 uses similar terminology in his video on mindfulness.  Having that definition in mind would have being helpful for the first two days of this assignment.  Once again, I heard but did not listen, and I read but did not pay attention.  I went back to the definition, and then I understood.  I understood that the feeling I had of being observant of the present moment in the morning on the third day and forth day, were moments of mindfulness.  It took absolutely no effort to be in those moments, no planning, no worries, and no anxiety.  I had learned how to be mindful and I did not realize it.

After the four days of mindfulness practice, I realized that even on a busy day, I was more observant of moments, people who said hello, and also more appreciative of small things in a way different from before.  I even heard sounds clearly and just heard them as part of the present happening, rather than being annoyed by them or complaining.  My awareness has certainly heightened and I feel more connected, more relevant in a way, and less worried about everything beyond my control.  I feel that this is precisely why the practice of mindfulness will help in managing my stress in times of low stress and times of high stress.  Being mindful allows me to stop overthinking everything, and let go.  I need that reminder and practice when I am feeling stressed, and even when I am not.  My anxiety levels are lower than ever before, and I feel reassured each day that all will be well.  I have noticed the rhythm in my breathing, the length of my arms, and the sound of the clock on my wall, ticking along, going about its business with its own purpose.  I definitely feel better in body, mind and spirit, and hopeful, I can make this a life time practice for my own health and wellness.  Stress, worry, and anxiety happen when we are dwelling on the past and the future.  There is peace in the stillness of here and now; in this stillness were letting go and faith is possible. 

References

  1. The practice of “The Examen”.  http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen. Accessed November 15, 2017
  2. The practice of mindfulness: 10 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HYLyuJZKno . Accessed November 16, 2017  
  3. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – Topic Overview.  https://www.webmd.com/balance/tc/mindfulness-based-stress-reduction-topic-overview#1 . Primary Medical Reviewers Patrice Burgess, MD and Lisa S. Weinstock, MD. Accessed November 19, 2017
  4. Kabat- Zinn, J. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJjyrzqkXrE . Accessed November 17, 2017
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