Saturday, March 7, 2015

Practicing Mindfulness

As young children, we likely encountered uncomfortable situations in our lives and as a result we relied on what Freud called, Ego Defenses. Ego Defenses cause us to react to a specific stimulus by being reminded of past events and how we learned to respond to them. Like a skipping record, we keep repeating past reactions in similar present situations based on defenses that feel safe to us. For example, a parent comes home from work in a bad mood after arguing with a coworker. He acts unfavorable to one of his children and in turn, the child displaces (displacement) the anger his father projected onto him to a safer target, his younger sibling instead of confronting his father. This method becomes a means of survival for this child from childhood to adulthood until he becomes aware of it and strives to make a change. While learning mindfulness, you can live life in the now and accept situations for what they truly are, not what we project them to be.

Mindfulness is the process of letting go of ideas from the past and worries of the future while embracing life in the present, moment to moment. The origin of mindfulness comes from Hindu and Buddhist practices and has been adopted in western culture in the helping fields. Psychologists, occupational therapists and yoga instructors are just a few professions that use the craft of mindfulness to help improve the quality of lives of the people around them.

So you aspire to live a life of true intent and mindfulness? To me, this very idea used to sound simplistic, yet complex and daunting. The thought of mindfulness, living in the present, in western culture sometimes seems unfathomable because of the distractions of modern day life. Things in our external environment like, the Internet, television, video games, texts and e-mails are a means of diverting us from mindfulness. Sorting out what needs to get done versus what does not can become blurred because constant entertainment is so readily available to us. Innately, we are social beings, although somehow we have drifted away from human relations and are frequently preoccupied with what is not in front of us. What we really require are true connections with other people and true experiences, while being aware of the physical and emotional sensations that occur within our bodies during our interactions.

Author of The Mindful Way Through Stress, Shamash Alidina has skillfully broken down the seven tenets of mindfulness in his book, Mindfulness for Dummies. This outline will provide you with an idea of how to start your mindfulness practice. These steps may take time so it is important that you are patient with yourself while learning them.

Intention – A defined reason for starting your practice of mindfulness, such as, reducing anxiety or becoming a better listener.

Awareness – Focusing on specific areas of your body, such as, your heart, expression on your forehead or your breathing.

Present Moment – Experiencing what is happening when it is happening, such as, taking a deep breath on a cold day and feeling the sensations in your nose. Feeling physical and emotional sensations, as they are happening, cold, hot, fear, love, anxiety, happiness or sadness.

Compassion for your Experience – Acknowledging all judgments about your process and letting them pass, such as, you are thinking of a list of things you need to do later, recognize what you are thinking about without judgment and then continue to focus on the present moment.

Questioning – Delve deeper into complex feelings and emotions instead of ignoring them. Try to understand what is triggering feelings of discomfort in specific settings.

Acceptance – Accept and feel what is happening while it is happening. If someone makes you angry do not be afraid to recognize what you are feeling. Mindfulness does not mean accepting abuse from others. This principle is most important because by ignoring or running from certain feelings you are pushing them away and they may become stronger.

Openness – This belief takes some work because it centers on recognizing difficult feelings without avoiding them, while allowing them to pass. Example: You are nervous to go to a work party and you think, “I am nervous to go to this event because I fear that I may say something stupid.” After recognizing this thought, you can step back and see it as a thought. Being aware of what you are feeling physically is also key. Addressing your emotion and allowing it pass will make it less intimidating.

Alidina, S. (2015). Mindfulness for dummies 2nd Edition: A Wiley Brand. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
Vaillant MD, G.E. (1992). Ego mechanisms of defense: A guide for clinicians and researchers. Washington, DC, US: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.

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