Mindfulness: A Lifetime Journey

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Those that suffer from depression tend to live in the past, while those who suffer from anxiety tend to live in the future. As most of you know I struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. I search for ways, other than conventional medicine, to deal with it. One suggestion was to meditate, but honestly that required too much sitting still for me. Instead I read about meditating and practicing mindfulness. However, getting to a state of mindfulness (focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations), does not come easily to those with either depression or anxiety. I am learning to live each day, each hour, as they come, rather than focusing on later today, tomorrow, a month from now. Below are some of the lessons I am practicing.

Life is hard. Let’s not kid ourselves. But…if we are open and receptive, learning and change can occur. If we try and control things too much in order to get what we want, then we are closing ourselves off to potential life lessons, and more stress or anxiety. Although it may be a daunting task, it is important to learn to accept the world as it comes, rather than dwelling on the past, or preparing for the imminent future. I’ve learned that when we try to control things, they generally don’t work out. I am learning to let things just happen and deal with them as they come. I do believe things happen in life for a reason. Sometimes we never find out what that reason is, but there is no sense in trying to control it. I have discovered there are usually life lessons that go along with the change and I am doing my best to embrace them.

Everything can become our teacher if we look at the world with fresh eyes because then we tend to see everything in a whole new light, and with less anxiety. Our successes, our failures, our joy, our pain. By changing our mindset, we are open to healing. Healing is coming to terms with the way things are and healing is ALWAYS possible. Healing is different from curing. Curing means to be free of disease, while healing means to remove obstacles that prevent the mind and body from working together. Healing is a restoration of wholeness. Curing doesn’t always address the problem, only the effects. In order to heal, one needs to accept and change. By letting go of the emotional baggage we’ve accumulated from past experiences and letting go of the identities we’ve created based on these, we can move on and begin to heal. We may lose our original sense of self, but we will be creating a new sense of self surrounded by healthy thoughts, perceptions, and relationships.

Relationships should make us feel good about ourselves. Support us. Encourage us. Not make us feel guilty, ashamed, or doubtful. Look for those healthy relationships and surround yourself in those, while letting the unhealthy relationships go. In the process you will learn to do what makes you happy. You’ll never be able to please everyone. Just live your own life, take care of yourself, and make your own happiness. In doing so you may make others happy if it makes you happy.

Along with healing, there is pain. Pain is always inevitable, but suffering is OPTIONAL! There are many possibilities to dealing with pain, and suffering is just one of the options. We can change how we react to pain. We have to be fully present and ask ourselves, “Is this tolerable? Am I ok, at this very moment in time? How bad is life right now?” Once we realize we can manage, we can begin to move past the pain and heal. Emotional suffering takes its toll on everyone. You. Your family. Your friends. Your co-workers. Set yourself free of suffering by letting it go. Embrace change and heal.

Appreciate YOUR life. All that you CAN do and all that you DO have. There are many people in this world, country, even the town in which you live that may not have access to clean drinking water every day, a fridge that holds all sorts of healthy foods for you to eat, or a loud washing machine that produces clean clothes. Yes, my washing machine sounds like an airline jet taking off, but I’ve quit complaining about it and appreciate the fact my family and I have clean clothes to wear every day. We don’t have to walk miles to a river and wash them by hand or take them to a laundromat and fight over the use of a machine. Live in the present moment and soak up all that it has to offer, and all YOU have to offer the world!

Patience. Instead of rushing through life, let things come as they may. Why does it seem people are always rushing everywhere? Are we waiting for a better, greater moment instead of living the one we are currently living? Patience is a virtue that I am constantly practicing. There is not one person in my family that would probably say I have much patience. I recognize this and work on it every hour of the day. Rather than thinking about tomorrow or the next, I  have been focusing on an hour at at time.

Listen. Take the time to really listen. Not just to others, but to yourself. Be here now and focus on what you are thinking. What you are doing. What your body and mind are telling you. Be still and listen to your children. Spouse. Students. Colleagues. Learn through listening. This also requires a great deal of patience. Just stop and really listen. Nothing else. You may surprise yourself to what you can learn without offering advice, ideas, or talking over them with your own story.

Recreate your way of thinking. Negative thinking can paralyze us and close us down to new possibilities. Feelings are neither good, nor bad. They are comfortable and uncomfortable. Most times it is those uncomfortable feelings that challenge us and keep us from living our lives as we were meant to live them. It may be challenging, but liberate yourself from letting these uncomfortable feelings, whether it be anger, fear, or self-doubt,  bring you down, and instead use them to build you up. It may take work. Love. Patience. Support.  Practice. I recently heard a convocation speech given by a former student of my husband’s. Like me, he has dealt with anxiety and depression, and in the past has lost himself to feelings of fear. He remarked that learning to push past your uncomfortable feelings and getting out of your comfort zone is scary.  All those uncomfortable moments and life experiences we encounter and how we act and react to them, is what ultimately defines us. Discover who you are by pushing yourself. Challenge yourself. Recreate your negative thoughts and use them to push you through. Don’t be afraid of failure. Try, try, and try again. It is the journey in life that matters most, not the destination.

Even if you are not in school or on a sports team anymore, you must continue to practice and commit… to being mindful. In order to follow these lessons, you have to practice them. Reading them once is not enough. Commit them to your daily living and they will become ingrained. All things in life take intention, regular practice, and discipline. Getting up each morning. Making breakfast, lunch, dinner. Going to work. Exercise. Playing with your kids/grandkids. It may be hard. Exhausting. Scary. Overwhelming. You may not like it, but you have to do it.

“Mindfullness is a lifetime’s journey along a path that ultimately leads nowhere, only to who you are.”–Jon Kabat Zinn author of Letting Everything Become Your Teacher: 100 Lessons in Mindfulness

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