Let’s talk mindfulness.
I want to take you back on a journey with me. A little over 4 years ago I sat down in my therapist’s office saying I needed this pain in my chest to end. I had been carrying it for as long as I can remember, but it’s too loud, too heavy, and too much to carry alone any longer. I had no clue the transformation I was about to experience was going to forever change my life, who I was, and who I decided to become.
See I was addicted to a high paced, high stress life. I didn’t know any differently, and it seemed that was the way life was supposed to be. During this time I was 22 years old training, traveling, and competing for the Paralympics. I was a mom, working 2 jobs to support my snowboarding career and my family, and I was a college student. I was maxed out to say the least, but I didn’t know how to not be maxed out.. I was far more uncomfortable in the quiet of living than I was in the rat race of achievement.
One of the many challenges I was facing during this time, too, was my inability to connect with my loved ones and form memories of our time together. I was living in the worry and anxiety of the future. I couldn’t even pretend to be present.
This is where my introduction to mindfulness was made. I was skeptical because I had tried meditation in the past, but my brain moves too fast and is too loud to not have thoughts… hello?? I am not a monk! But that’s not what mindfulness is, mindfulness are the specific behaviors to practice in order to intentionally live with awareness in the present moment. That right there still felt impossible, but I was finally given a solution.
The goals of mindfulness aren’t to become a monk, sit in silence for hours at a time thinking about absolute nothingness. That is a huge misconception about the mindfulness world. The fact you are having thoughts means you’re alive, but it’s what you do as you hear those thoughts that matter.
The goals of mindfulness are to:
- Reduce suffering and increase happiness.
- Increase control of your mind, your ability to focus your attention, your ability to intentionally detach from thought images and sensations
- Decrease reactivity to mental stress
- Experience reality as it is
- Be present in your own life
- Be present to others
5 years ago when I started this journey, I didn’t have the community or support that we have now. Not many people were talking about mindfulness and meditation in this way. I learned through trial and error, tears and frustrations and I am sharing this so you don’t have to go at it alone.
So where do you start? Well lucky for you, you don’t have to sit in a dark room for 30 minutes to reap the benefits. You simply start by trying 30 seconds of intentional mindfulness to begin changing your mental state.
My first attempt at mindfulness was a total flop in my eyes. I could only get 15 seconds of stillness and even that felt like an eternity. I was frustrated and angry because what is so wrong with me that I can’t be still for 30 seconds?
In this feeling of failure I received some pretty special advice. I was taught that in that 15 seconds I was beginning a massive transformation. Just like any skill, sport, or hobby in life you don’t start by being an expert. You begin at the bottom and work your way up.
I have included a few mindfulness practices to start today that have totally changed my life in my mindfulness living. Even though I can go into mindfulness on command, sit in silence for as long as I truly want, and have learned the freedom, peace, and happiness that comes from mindfulness I always come back to the basics for refreshers or to deepen my practice with a variety of mindfulness skills.
Let’s get started:
Skill number 1. OBSERVE
Observing is one of my favorite practices. Have you noticed anytime we look at an object, a place, a person we jump to labels, names, or judgments? In many cases, it’s all we know. Observing skills take us to a whole new world. We begin to look at life with new eyes, new perspectives, and clearer vision. Observing skills take away meaning and replace it with being.
Observing is simply noticing. During this practice you will just notice your five senses, your thoughts and feelings, and/ or your bodily sensations. You will put your focus and attention into wordless watching: seeing what is and not what you’ve been taught things to be. I like to think of observing as paying attention on purpose. When you are observing, that is your only task, nothing else, just sit back and observe. It’s important to not label or describe what you are seeing and control your attention so you can control your mind: just notice. As you continue this practice try not to push away your experience in the moment and do not try to hold onto them either, release attachment to the present moment and allow it to flow around you.
I have found observing skills to be one of my most used skills while I am outside, commuting, or even doing things like grocery shopping. I find myself moving through life and missing so many beautiful moments like daily sunsets or the smells of the outdoors. I am able to notice the way the light hits the mountains and trees by my home or the way the fruit at the grocery store creates a sense of creativity and unusual beauty.
Remember, like any new skills it requires practice, practice, practice. You may only get a few seconds of observing, but each time your mind goes elsewhere, move your attention back to the present moment of observing. Over time you may find you can mindfully observe longer and longer each time!
*If you find any emotions coming up, recognize them and create space for them. Then bring your attention back to your observing self—your feelings and thoughts are there, but you are separate from them, noticing them. This is the “Observer you”
Ways to practice:
Observe what you see:
- Lie on your back and watch the clouds.
- Sit on a bench and watch the world move around you.
- Sit in a room in your home and just notice.
Observe what you hear:
- Stop and listen to the texture and shapes of the sounds around you, and listen to the silences between the sounds.
- Play a song and hear the different notes of the music or the tones of the singer.
Observe what you smell:
Breathe in notice the smells around you. Bring something closer to your nose do you notice the smells, if you take it away do the smells linger?
Observe what you taste:
- Put something in your mouth, do you notice the taste? The sensations?
Observe bodily sensations:
- Notice any urges you have, are you urged to avoid someone or something or act on impulse?
Observe what you feel:
- Pay attention to anything touching you, your clothes, the wind, or maybe the sweat on your skin.
Observe your breath:
- feel the air moving in or out of your nose.
Skill Number 2: DESCRIBE
I have found describing skills to be helpful when observing is feeling too slow. Sometimes I need to give my mind a job so that my thoughts are less loud or distracting. Describing gives your brain an intentional job, while still being in the present moment.
Describe begins similarly to observe. You start by seeing what is around you, but this time you get to describe your observations. The key to mindfulness describing is ungluing your interpretations and opinions from the facts. You will label what you see; using your 5 senses or your internal thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. True descriptions, though, are about sticking to the facts. You will describe who, what, when, and where as it is in that moment. Remember, you can’t describe the thoughts, intentions, and emotions of others.
Ways to practice:
- Find things in nature: a leaf, a river, a drop of water, a landscape, an animal and describe each thing in as much detail as you can.
- Describe your feelings as they arise within you: “ a feeling of anger is arising within me”.
- Take a breath in gently and from the stomach, describing in your mind that “I am inhaling normally” then exhale in awareness, “I am exhaling normally”. Do this for 3 breaths then on the 4th breath extend the inhale describing in your mind, “I am breathing in a long inhalation.” Exhale in awareness, “ I am breathing out a long exhalation”. Do for 3 breaths.
Skill Number 3: Participating
Participating is one of my all time favorite skills. I use it when I can’t get out of ruminating thoughts and feelings. It allows me to be mobile, yet intentional with my thoughts. I enjoy using participation skills when I am playing with my girls or during a training session. It allows for total and complete presence as you are living. The ultimate goal of mindfulness is the ability to mindfully participate more frequently.
Participating is throwing yourself into the experience. You allow yourself to become one with what you are doing. You enter wholly and with awareness into life itself, nonjudgmentally, in the present moment.
Have you ever heard of “flow state” or “flow”? Participating is the peak experience because you are fully engaged in the moment. Here’s the thing, participating is incompatible with self consciousness because we become so involved in the action that we are no longer aware that we are separate from our doing.
In participating, effort seems effortless, we are present to our own lives and lives of loved ones. Participating is one of the most freeing experiences during the mindfulness journey.
Ways to practice:
- Completely let go and dance to music.
- Throw yourself into what another person is saying.
- Sing along to a song you’re listening to.
One really exciting part of mindful living is once you start you don’t want to stop. That feeling of peace, or ease can’t be bought or replaced. The only person who can give it to you is yourself. I encourage you to try all of these skills as many times as you see fit. Document the skill you tried, how you tried it, and what you noticed. You may find after reflecting on your mindfulness attempts that you gained more than you thought.
Comment on the blog how you are using your mindful skills, because you may help someone else!
More ways to practice:
*These specific skills are used in the world of DBT. I am not a therapist, DBT specialist, or related to DBT in any way other than a learner and sharer of information.