I stepped on the scale yesterday. The number that popped up wasn’t the one I expected. It was a long way down range from the number I saw a few weeks before Christmas. I stepped off the scale and back on again hoping that I’d shake loose a stuck spring or something. No luck. There were no excuses now. I had to take action or buy a new pair of pants. The holidays are a great time to loosen up and eat fun food. But the holidays can also be an anxious time of door busters, gatherings with family and friends, or feeling the loss of not being with someone you love. I want to lose the pounds I put on, but I also want to gain the inner peace and stillness that often eluded me during the holidays. The German Christmas Carol “Stille Nacht” we translate as Silent Night. Stille means “quiet” or “silent” – “the night was still,” but it could also mean something that is enduring – “after everyone left, Mike was still there” and it could even mean to stop moving – “he stood still and waited.” To be quiet. To endure. To stop.
These words describe the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is one way of creating inner peace and serenity. What if I could stop for a moment and “watch my breath” actually breathing me? What if I could experience this moment as it is with curiosity? What if I could quieten all the inner noise, and the critical voices within me?
Beginning a practice of mindfulness takes a great willingness. Willingness is not just “trying” according to John Forsyth Ph.D. and George Eifert Ph.D. in The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, willingness means “doing” something. It is a practice, a discipline, a commitment. Most people think mindfulness meditation practice is having an inner space of thoughtless, anxiety free, serenity and bliss. . .. Spoiler alert! Mindfulness is a practice of turning toward whatever is happening right now in my mind and watching it with the same interest I’d watch a movie but without getting all tangled up in the storyline; watching with a detached interest without feeling compelled to act upon every thought and feeling.
What if when a thought came into my head, I stepped back and said to myself, "Oh! This is interesting. I wonder what is coming next?" It takes a terrific amount of willingness and courage to stay in your seat just noticing, noting, allowing, and returning your attention repeatedly to this present moment – whatever is happening. Mindfulness practice is a way I can turn toward the pain and whatever else is happening within me and begin to treat myself with kindness. According to Kristen Neff Ph.D. author of Self Compassion, kindness is the first step toward regarding myself with more gentleness.
This is where the “willingness” part comes to play. To recognize and experience my awesomeness – I need to stay put and see what happens, instead of following my natural inclination to turn away from these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
Forsyth and Eifert write that we have to make a choice. We can - -
Sit and wallow in emotional pain and do nothing, or
Struggle to get rid of the pain spending so much energy and focus that we let important parts of our lives slip away, or
Try something different - Mindful Acceptance.
They define Mindful Acceptance this way: "Watching the struggle without judging it, feeling the pain without drowning in it, honoring the hurt without becoming it."
My experience with mindfulness has been that I did not drown in an overwhelming sea of emotions, but instead I felt calm; the thoughts and feelings less impending and the urges to act upon them less compelling. This slowing, sitting, and observing opened up more energy and creative space within me so that solutions appeared on their own; ideas I hadn’t even considered before. I discovered that the inner condition necessary to welcome this energy and creativity is to become more peaceful, more curious, softer, and less critical.
But it takes a great willingness to show up day by day and be with yourself. I hope you try it.
Try this mindful practice: The Body Scan. Set the timer for 5 or 10 minutes.
Find a comfortable position either sitting or lying down.
Gently become aware of your breath and close your eyes.
Beginning with your head, focus your attention on each area of your body and gently tell yourself to relax it.
Scalp – Forehead – Eyes – Cheeks - Nose – Ears – Jaw – Neck – Shoulders – Arms – Hands & Fingers – Chest – Abdomen – Pelvis – Hips – Thighs – Knees – Calves & Shins – Ankles – Feet – Toes – Soles of the feet.
During this short time, your mind will wander, gently bring your attention back to your body and continue to relax. Return your attention over and over again. Don't give up, even if your mind wanders a lot. Join the club!
Wherever you are on your body-relax journey, stop when the timer rings, even if you only made it as far as your neck.
Rest a moment. Congratulate yourself that you showed up.
Tomorrow you might want to set the timer for a longer time.
See if you can do this simple exercise every day for the next week.
There is nothing magical about the practice; the magic comes as you begin to show up
regularly to be with yourself.
The Mindfulness and Acceptance Therapy Workbook for Anxiety; John Forsyth Ph.D., George Eifert Ph.D.;
Self-Compassion; Kristen Neff, Ph.D.