There are many self-help options that a person can use to manage a mental health problem. I’m not suggesting to not seek professional medical and/or psychological help but just pointing out how complimentary self-help strategies can also prove to be successful while at the same time allowing the person to develop a sense of self-empowerment as they take charge of their own well-being. Mindfulness is one of them.
Mindfulness looks at everything with a sense of wonder like through the eyes of a child, and every moment is approached as if it were the first and the only moment of one’s lifetime.
Here are some guidelines I set for myself when I practice mindfulness:
- Don’t expect anything. Just observe what happens.
- Don’t strain or force anything.
- Take my time. Don’t rush. It’s all about patience.
- Don’t hold on to anything or reject anything. Let what comes come and then let it go.
- Accept everything including the feelings I wish I didn’t have and any experiences I’m uncomfortable with.
- Don’t shame myself for having flaws and failings. That’s just part of being human.
- Be loving with myself. I may not be perfect, but I’m all I’ve got to work with.
- Embrace my Inquiring Green (one of four Personality Dimensions temperament styles) by taking an inquiring approach to everything.
- View my problems as challenges and negatives as opportunities to learn and to grow.
There are countless options to practice mindfulness, different styles and many books to guide a beginner. Two books I would recommend for any beginner are Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana and Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
I have been practicing mindfulness faithfully now for more than 5 years and I credit it for helping to stabilize my anxiety, avoid burnout and manage physical challenges. Mindfulness has changed the quality of my life for the better.
Is it easy to learn? There is no learning, it’s just being. That’s not easy for me but with consistent practice, I’m noticing a lot of benefits as well.
Mindfulness is bare attention and follows a fluid process. It is noticing things exactly as they are, without judgement. When you notice your own lack of mindfulness, that noticing itself is a result of mindfulness.
The tiniest, most ordinary perception can be a stimulus to practice mindfulness: a glimpse of the moon, the cry of bird, the sound of the wind in the trees.
Three ways that I choose to practice mindfulness are:
- simply noticing everyday occurrences as they unfold before me and as I experience them
- paying close attention to my breath
- loving friendliness
I take the opportunity to practice mindfulness when I choose to perform an everyday simple activity at very low speed – making an effort to pay full attention to every aspect of the act.
The next time you are sitting at a table drinking a glass of water try completely experiencing the act. View your posture as you are sitting. Really feel the glass within your grasp. Smell the subtle aroma of the water. Notice the intention to raise your arm within your mind, feel your arm as it rises, and feel the glass against your lips and the liquid pouring into your mouth. Taste the water, notice the temperature of the liquid, and then watch the rising of the intention to lower your arm. The entire process is extraordinary if you attend to it fully, paying detached attention to every sensation.
Breathing is a universal process. This is one of the reasons that breathing is usually chosen as a focus of meditation.
The first step in using breath as an object of meditation is to find it. Something that works for me is to try and notice the point where the air passes in and out of the nostrils. To find your point, take a quick deep breath and notice the point just inside the nose or on the upper lip where you experience the first sensation of the air changing direction from inhalation to exhalation. Always strive for the natural and spontaneous movement of the breath. Don’t regulate it or emphasize it in any way. Just let your breath move naturally as it wants to at its own rhythm.
Loving friendliness is part of a formal meditation practice that requires active mental participation in order to be effective. In other words you are consciously choosing to extend loving friendliness to yourself, everyone and everything else. “I” can be substituted with “my friends”, “my relatives”, “all unfriendly persons”, “all living beings”…anyone or anything. It’s totally up to you.
Below is an example of a loving friendliness passage I express daily.
May my mind be filled with the thoughts of loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy and calmness.
May I be healthy.
May I be generous and gentle.
May I be happy and peaceful.
May my actions be kind and my words pleasing to others.
May my actions and words inspire friendly behavior and help me be free from fear, tension, anxiety, worry and restlessness.
The practice of loving friendliness can be done early morning after waking, before bedtime or anytime in between. I have read that it can help you sleep better and prevent nightmares. I prefer to practice it each morning before I go out into the world. Daily practice of loving friendliness has allowed me to experience many benefits. My mind is clearer, calmer and more appreciative of what the day ahead will unfold for me. I believe it has trained me to be friendlier and more open toward others, friend or not.
I love this story adapted from Bhante Gunaratana’s Mindfulness in Plain English. It really sums up for me the power of mindfulness and specifically the practice of loving kindness when used as a core guideline for our interactions with all living things.
When I first moved to where I live now there was a man down the road who appeared to be very unfriendly. I take a long walk most days, and, whenever I saw this man, I would wave to him. He would just frown at me and look away. Even so, I would always wave and think kindly of him, sending him loving friendliness. I was not fazed by his attitude. I never gave up on him. Whenever I saw him I waved. After about a year, his behavior changed. He stopped frowning. I felt wonderful. The practice of loving friendliness was beginning to bear fruit.
After another year, something miraculous happened as I was walking. He drove past me and lifted one finger off the steering wheel. Again, I thought, “Oh, this is wonderful! Loving friendliness is working.” And yet another year passed as, day after day I would wave to him and wish him well. The third year, he lifted two fingers in my direction. Then the next year, he lifted all four fingers off the wheel. More time passed, I was walking down the road as he turned into his driveway. He took his hand completely of the steering wheel, stuck it out the window, and waved back at me.
One day, not long after that, I saw this man parked on the side of one of our neighborhood’s roads. He was sitting in the driver’s seat listening to the radio. I went to him and we started talking. First we chatted just about the weather and then, little by little, his story unfolded. It turns out that, several years ago, he had been in a terrible accident and multiple bones in his body had been broken. When I first started seeing him on the road, he was only beginning to recover. It was not because he was a mean person that he did not wave back to me; he did not wave back because he could not move all his fingers. Had I given up on him, I would never have known how good this person is. Now we are friends.
– Bhante Gunaratana