We all have those days. Those days that leave us feeling shackled to our humanity, trapped by our trappings, and tied to our persistent concerns. And the old adages that used to come naturally, such as “Don’t worry, be happy!” and “Follow your heart!” seem more comical than realistic. Because no matter how badly we would like to disown our worry, responsibility awaits us: the mortgage payments that do not seem to make a dent, the dirty dishes and laundry that magically reappear on their own, the surprise car issue that eats up our entire paycheck. And following one’s heart won’t necessarily fix a flat tire. We desire freedom.
So what CAN help us? Don’t worry, I am headed somewhere positive. A notion that began in Eastern religion and quickly overtook common therapy practice is referenced in the Christian novel The Shack, written by William P. Young. One message from the novel knocked me off my proverbial horse. The main character dialogues with God, and implores that God make his life easier. And God responds, “Together, you and I can be in it and not of it.” What the author offers to the reader, regardless of personal belief systems, is an approach to life that spares us from being consumed: Be in it, and not of it. How exactly do we live amid the distractions of survival while keeping the eyes of our heart on higher things, such as love, intimacy and purpose? Here is our tool: Mindfulness. Most people have heard of mindfulness, but far fewer know how powerful it can be when embraced as a lifestyle. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist teaching, yet has been incorporated into therapy for decades. Mindfulness focuses on an awareness of YOU in the present moment. Though it may sound overly simplified, mindfulness is so much more than a stress manager or tension tamer. It is a posture of living that can open up parts of our heart that we have forgotten even existed.
Interested yet? Here is where you can start: Pause from your reading, and notice yourself. Notice your breath. Notice your good intentions. Let your eyes find something near you that leads you to feelings of appreciation. Now notice your feelings of appreciation. Notice your breath again. Did you just get a pang of worry? Notice your worry, validate your worry. It IS hard. And you’re still breathing. Try wiggling your toes. Did you just smile? Notice your smile. If you did not smile, notice your reservation.
Mindfulness is simply learning how to be with yourself, which is the single most validating thing we can do to lead us to fuller life. No matter the situation, we have the gift of returning to ourselves in the moment. So, the next time that familiar feeling of being trapped bites at our ankle, we can do ourselves a favor by noticing it, but not allowing it to consume us. We can remind ourselves: Just because I am in it, does not mean I am OF it. In time, the freedom of being present to our beautiful lives will give us the lens with which to see all of those interruptions. The truth is that each person’s life truly is a gift, even in its darkest hours.
So notice yourself, and know that you are enough. And when you feel you have mastered those first steps of mindfulness, I invite you to wade a little deeper in the water. Check out the links below that encourage mindfulness to lovingly permeate all realms of our day: our diet, our relationships, our addiction, our prayer and even our work. The possibilities are endless!
Mindful Addiction Recovery: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/06/20/ellen-langer-on-mindfulness-addiction/