MINDFUL AWARENESS: HOW IT CAN HELP YOU
Mindful awareness involves paying attention to one’s current experience with openness, curiosity without judgment. We have all been mindful at one point or another in our lives. Whether it’s enjoying a sunset or listening to the silence of the desert, savoring a meal or that decadent piece of chocolate fudge cake. Mindfulness is about being fully aware of the present moment with all senses engaged. Mindfulness is not an acquired state but rather a quality we are born with. As children we are naturally curious and non judgmental about the world. This capacity allows us to learn what we need to know to develop and survive. Unfortunately, as we grow older and our brain develops we become more self-conscious, we worry about how others view us, particularly in teen-age years. Eventually we fall prey to social pressures and the demands of day-to-day life.
“Auto-Pilot” Mode a Source of Suffering
Much of our time is spent mindlessly doing rather than being aware of and experiencing what we are doing. Many of us step into a mode often referred to as “auto-Pilot” where our attention is on what we feel we should be doing, thinking and worrying about the future or the past, trying to get things done so we can tick the item off our to do list, and then worrying and feeling frustrated when we don’t. When we don’t reach our goals or when things don’t turn out as expected, we feel discouraged; we believe we have failed and label ourselves as a failure. We try to cope with the difficult emotions by distracting ourselves, doing more, numbing ourselves with exercise, alcohol, and over eating loosing sight of our mind, emotions and body. Fear and avoidance of thought and emotions keeps us in a state of doing; this vicious cycle over time takes a toll on our health, mood, relationships and we suffer as a result. This vicious cycle can be broken.
Moving Towards Well-Being
We look after our cars with more care and attention than we look after our minds. Typically we take our car to the garage for regular checks and oil change. When it is not running we have the mechanic look under the hood to figure out what the problem is.
Mindful awareness of mind and body is like looking under the hood; similar to cars we need to “look under the hood” regularly to stay emotionally and physically healthy. Taking a moment to connect with your breath and observe the patterns of your mind, emotions, and bodily sensations provides useful information about the state of your being in that moment. Taking a moment to look inward, checking in and connecting with yourself, you discover how you are trying hard to stop thinking, or are holding on to or avoiding anger or sadness or fighting pain. Although avoidance of thought and emotion can appear as an effective coping strategy, in the long run the emotions and anxious feelings you were trying to avoid eventually catch up with you in the form of irritability, anger, anxiety, and panic, depression. Pushing or blocking emotions, fighting with thoughts and memories only fuels the emotions and thoughts are trying to avoid. Much of our suffering is the result of how we relate to ourselves and often we relate with fear and avoidance, or we hold onto thoughts and emotions.
Developing the skill of mindful awareness will help you change this pattern. You will learn to relate to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations with greater ease rather than fear and avoidance by riding the waves of difficult emotions and sensations. Checking in periodically and taking stock of the weather patterns of our mind and body is an effective way to manage stress, anxiety, and emotions. Engaging mindfully with yourself and your day to day living activities is a first important step to help you address your suffering and move toward well being.
Mindful awareness is a skill that is developed in different ways. It can be developed by periodically checking in and observing the patterns of your mind and body, practicing periods of sitting meditation and yoga, spending time in nature, art, music.
So if you dare to, stop, take a breath and check in it only takes a moment and it can change your life.
Mindful Awareness and Psychotherapy:
Mindful awareness skills can be an important complement to therapy and medication. Some psychotherapists draw on mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention. When looking for a therapist enquire about how their knowledge of mindfulness and how they integrate mindfulness into their therapeutic approach.