As we continue to take a deeper look into how we can further weave in acceptance, commitment, and values-driven living to help live a richer and more meaningful life, let’s dissect something talked about by many, engaged in by few, and misunderstood by nearly all: mindfulness. For many of us, when we picture mindfulness, we picture ourselves sitting at the base of a mountain on the other side of the globe eyes closed, legs crossed, in a “Zen-like” state where our brains are flushed of any thought possible.
While that sounds lovely, how realistic is it to ever get to a place in which we have no thoughts running through our minds? I’d be willing to bet that even in single minute you’ve been reading this paragraph, you’ve had a bevy of thoughts fly through your mind.
Ultimately, mindfulness is the focusing of our awareness on the present moment, without judgment, and willingly acknowledging and making space for the thoughts, feelings, and sensations running through us. Take 30 seconds right now to do nothing but observe, acknowledge, and invite any and all thoughts that come into your mind for the next half-minute…
OK! How was that? Was it easy? Difficult? What did you do when the thoughts came flooding into your mind? Did you push them away or make space for them? When I ask most people what they do when they have thoughts, specifically unwanted thoughts pop into their minds, their instinct, understandably so, is to push them away; to try to rid our minds as quickly as possible of such an uncomfortable thought. After all, it’s probably what we’ve been taught (“Hey, don’t be nervous”). But recalling our example from the last blog to not think about ANYTHING but a pink elephant, we remind ourselves that it may be fruitless to spend time, effort, and energy pushing thoughts away, even the uncomfortable ones. Maybe, just maybe, the thoughts themselves aren’t the problem, it’s our desire to control them that is.
If we want to work towards making space for all our thoughts, the great ones in addition to the challenging ones, it all starts with mindfulness. So, this week, take a moment every day to acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, and sensations you feel within yourself. They may be pleasant and enjoyable, or challenging and uncomfortable. Regardless of what they are, do your best to acknowledge them, and see if you can make space for them, mindfully, instead of pushing them away.
In the next blog, we’ll take a further look at how to better deal with some of the especially challenging thoughts- the ones that we can’t seem to get out of our heads!