Do you remember:
When you were a kid, playing in the long days of summer out in the fields or the woods, riding your bike and the day felt like it went on and on?
Or, when you get lost in a project or a good book and time feels endless?
You may not know it, but you were practicing mindfulness, that feeling when you are free of worries or cares, when it feels like time and space are not important.
Though meditation is currently trendy, it’s actually an ancient practice — 3,000 or more years old to be precise. And, to many, it can feel unfamiliar, daunting, or outside of one’s comfort zone. I’m here to tell you that you can integrate it into your life to enhance your well-being.
I suggest to you that wherever possible, we practice simplifying life by doing the simple things. Mindfulness, or meditation, suggests that with practice we can get into a ‘state of mind’ that allows us to:
- Accept what is—when we rail against what is, this causes “suffering.” My advice is to follow the statement: “accept the things, I cannot change…” With practice and deeper thinking, we can realize that we can benefit from focusing on accepting ourselves right now in this very moment even if it is uncomfortable.
- Accept and feel our feelings—that is what they are there for, to feel and become more AWARE or AWAKE; it is through our feelings/emotions that we can wake up to ourselves and grow, change, and evolve. In so doing, by observing our thoughts and our feelings, we are in a better position to KNOW ourselves, which is an age-old idea. Once we gain self-understanding, it is easier to be understanding of others, yielding less or no judgment, no labeling in this moment-by-moment experience. After all, we are all in the same boat; we all live on this same planet. Life is hard enough all by itself; if we made it our business to make life easier each day, may be life would get “easier.”
- By practicing mindfulness, we can consciously activate the “Relaxation Response.” What a novel idea, “Relax your Way through each day!” What do we have to lose by not relaxing? What do we have to gain by relaxing or practicing the intentional striving toward a state of calm?
You can start by setting up a regular practice. Try:
- Finding a space at home – a nook, a corner, a separate room – where you can set up a quiet space.
- Choose a seat or cushion that is stable. You can also try the floor, a chair, or folded up blanket.
- Sit down and take a posture that is upright, but not rigid. Rest your hands on your thighs facing down.
- Breathe in and out.
- Pay attention to your thoughts. Let them wander. Don’t be surprised if you have lots of thoughts. That is normal for beginners. Pay attention and notice your thoughts.
- Try sitting for 10 to 15 minutes at first, then, increase to 20 or 30 when you are comfortable.
The practice of mindfulness requires exactly that — Practice. Keep trying.
The mind under stress can be like a racehorse running us all over the map. If we are well-practiced, we can take the reins and regulate or calm the incessant and anxiety producing thoughts and emotions in combination with deep, rhythmic breathing. In so doing, the mystery of the mind is partly understood and a sense of ease and well-being can arise.
Evy Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.