The Practice of Mindfulness: Paying Attention
The snow has melted away and is gone from the yard. Exposing all of the rocks that were shoveled and plowed from the driveway onto the grass during the winter months. Every spring the accumulated rocks must be raked from the grass back onto the driveway. Not a chore too many people would look forward to.
As I rake the rocks through the grass back to the gravel driveway, I consciously try practicing “mindful raking”. I feel the round rake handle in my hand. It is not too heavy. Manageable. The breeze is late winter cool on my bare face. The strength from the sun warms my back. Many types of birds at various volumes are singing. I try not to judge. Good or bad. Just be. Being.
Mindfulness is something I started intentionally practicing over 15 years ago. This practice has had a profound impact on my life and daily experience. I still have not mastered this art. There are still times where my mind, brain and body are anything but mindful or present. I am distracted by aches or pains in my body. I get stuck on upsetting thoughts and anxious ‘what if…’ thinking. I catch myself having irrational cognitive distortions that cause me great angst. Try not to judge. Have awareness. Be.
I have talked with many clients about being “triggered” (something that is a negative reminder of some part of a traumatic experience). Usually after discussing what the specific or particular trigger was (knowledge is power), we will shift to exploring mindfulness, acceptance and coping/grounding strategies. When I am talking with a client about mindfulness and presence I will ask, “How do your feet feel in your shoes at this moment?”. Some clients ask, "What do you mean?, often accompanied with a funny expression implying WTF. Others will tune in for a moment and begin describing how their feet feel in their shoes. Warm. Cold. Sweaty. Cramped. Loose.
The reason behind asking about how a person’s feet feel is to allow someone the experience of mindfulness via experiential learning. When a person is able to redirect attention on something, such as how your feet feel in your shoes, the negative trigger losses some of its power and negative impact. There is nothing you can’t handle in the present moment. The problem arises when we resist the present moment, when we regretfully reflect on the past or anxiously predict the future. Mindfulness does not take away or fix issues in our lives but it certainly does add to and improve the quality of our life and experience. So, how do your feet feel in your shoes at this moment?
The quotes below are a few of my favorites from the first chapter of Full Catastrophe Living about paying attention and mindfulness.
“No matter how much other people want to help you and can help you in your efforts to move toward greater levels of health and well-being, the basic effort still has to come from you. Afterall, no one is living your life for you and no one’s care for you could or should replace the care you can give to yourself.”
“Learning how to stop all your doing and shift over to a “being” mode, learning how to make time for yourself, how to slow down and nurture calmness and self-acceptance in yourself, learning to observe what your own mind is up to from moment to moment, how to watch your thoughts and how to let go of them without getting so caught up and driven by them, how to make room for new ways of seeing old problems and for perceiving the interconnectedness of things, these are some of the lessons of mindfulness.”
“Meditation is really about paying attention.”
“Unawareness can dominate the mind in any moment and consequently, it can affect everything we do. We may find that much of the time we are really on “automatic pilot,” functioning mechanically, without being fully aware of what we are doing or experiencing. It’s as if we are not really at home a lot of the time or, put another way, only half awake.”
“Notice how much of the time during the day you find yourself thinking about the past or about the future…. You can experience this pull of the thinking mind for yourself right now if you perform the following experiment: Close your eyes, sit so that your back is straight but not stiff, and become aware of your breathing. Don’t try to control your breathing. Just let it happen and be aware of it, feeling how it feels, witnessing it as it flows in and out. Try being with your breath in this way for three minutes.”
“Learning to listen to your own body is vital to improving your health and the quality of your life.”
“Knowing what you are doing while you are doing it is the essence of mindfulness practice.”
“The present is the only time that we have to know anything. It is the only time we have to perceive, to learn, to act, to change, to heal. … While we may have to teach ourselves how to do it through practicing, the effort itself is it’s own end. It makes our experiences more vivid and our lives more real.”
“We are using the word practice here in a special way. It does not mean a “rehearsal” or a perfecting of some skill so that we can put it to use at some other time. In the meditative context practice means “being in the present on purpose.””
Source: Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (2013). Full catastrophe living : using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam Books.
Thanks and gratitude.
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Sits as therapist and as client on The Therapist Chair.