A patient of mine had generalized anxiety. She worried constantly about every detail of her life: the impact of past mistakes, what others were thinking, what might go wrong. She once asked me, “What is it like for everyone else? Do they think like I do?”
Though we all live in the same world. Each of us sees it differently. We can make assumptions from the words and actions of others, but we can never fully experience the world as they do.
However, when others are distracted, you can tell that they are not attending to your conversation. They’re not really engaged and you don’t feel connected.
When others are mindful and living in the present, you feel their presence and know that they are listening. Master meditators evoke a sense of calm in others.
The pace of modern life and evolution itself have moved most of us away from mindfulness. The complexity of human experience requires a variety of mental states.
Anger prepares us to fight when we feel threatened. Love connects us. Fear and anxiety ready us for potential danger. Daydreaming allows us to find creative solutions to our problems.
We all need our monkey minds – the “ADD” in all of us – that help us pick up new information and the details of our surroundings. We also need to tune in and tune out of the past. We dissociate from traumatic memories so that we can function day to day. On the other hand, we remember lessons learned from painful mistakes. Happy memories help us endure a difficult present.
Thus through adaptation we have become habitually unmindful in our everyday thoughts. Yet when this state of distraction becomes dysfunctional, we need to relearn the art of refocusing our conscious awareness.
It’s time to refocus when days go by and you can’t recall what you’ve done, you explode in a rage for no good reason, or you feel miserable when everything seems to be going okay. You need to be more mindful when you feel rushed, stressed and constantly on the go. You may need to meditate when, in the absence of disease, you suffer the physical symptoms of stress, which include jitteriness, fatigue, heartburn, diarrhea and sweating.
Mindfulness is not an end in itself. It is a skill to be learned, a tool to move through your days at a livable pace, to say what you mean and to do what you intend, to connect in your conversations and to make your moments memorable.
At other times, we need to listen when our Spidey sense is tingling, when life is on red alert. There are moments when we must reflect – to look at our moral compass, our values and our goals.
Mindfulness meditation is like a check up, not a complete physical but rather a review of your vital signs – your temperature, blood pressure, respiratory and pulse rates.
WHAT AM I FEELING? Start with your breath. Breathe in slowly and deeply, and as you release your breath, let go of all tension. Begin with the sensations of breathing: the air moving through your nose and mouth, the rhythmic rising and falling of your chest and abdomen. Tune into the rest of your body, and then, your emotions. Are you happy, anxious, sad or irritated?
WHAT AM I THINKING? What are your thoughts? With what have you been preoccupied? Is this where you would choose to be? Are your thoughts aligned with your deepest beliefs and values?
WHAT AM I DOING? Attend to the meaning of your motions. Are you being productive or wasting your time? Are your actions aligned with your most important goals? Do they reflect the real you?
WHAT AM I SAYING? Are your words helpful, kind and connecting, or are they cutting, divisive and manipulative? Do they come from the ego or from your deeper, better self?
HOW AM I RELATING? Attend to your relationships at home, school and work. Do you show respect and do you seek to understand? Are you able to forgive?
WHAT DO I SEE? The everyday world seen through the lens of mindfulness can be more meaningful and significant. There is beauty in nature and in others we too frequently fail to see.
WHO AM I? You are more than your body and its sensations, more than your emotions, more than the chatter of your thoughts, and more than the mask of your ego. You are more than you thought you were. Let mindfulness guide you to the discovery of your genuine self and the realization of your positive potential in this life.
I will be expanding on each of these meditations in upcoming posts on this blog, in my newspaper column and the Positive Potential Medicine radio program at pwrnradio.com.