RIGHT NOW, practice;
I calm my brain.
I feel the gift of my body that is here.
~ Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler
It happens to all of us.
Our brains are wired to get caught up in the routine of everyday life. It seems like the older we get, the more responsibilities we have and the easier it is to practice that continuous fractured attention that we’ve all become so accustomed to.
The joke goes:
Almost 15 years ago Saundra Adam’s grandson, Chancellor Lee Adams came into her life in the most heart-wrenching way. One night in 1999 after the past NFL player Rae Carruth and Cherica Adams went to a movie they got into separate cars to drive back to Cherica’s house. As Cherica parked another car drove beside her revealing a gun and fired a number of rounds into Cherica. At the time Cherica was in her third trimester with Chancellor and had enough energy to dial 911 and implicate Rae in the shooting. The paramedics got to Cherica in time to save her son’s life and performed an emergency c-section. Because of Cherica’s death, Chancellor had been oxygen-deprived and would spend the rest of his life with severe disabilities unable to feed and change himself.
But Saundra, his grandmother who inherited him tells this a different way.
Before reading this blog post, take 10 seconds to take a few deep breaths, be aware of your body here and create a moment of being present. Now, read over this poem twice before moving on.
Here is a poem by 13th century Sufi Poet, Rumi,:
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the door sill
Where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
Right now is an opportunity (which is really available to us at any moment) to recognize that we may be starting this moment off from a place of auto-pilot, falling into the same old habitual styles of thinking and behaving that we really want to change. This might mean engaging in habits that don’t serve our health and well-being (e.g., drinking/eating too much, isolating, too much TV, too much digital interaction) or with habitual ways of thinking (e.g., negative self talk).
Before Stephen March wrote his thoughts in The Atlantic that Facebook was making us lonelier, there were been several people arguing both sides for years. It’s intriguing to consider how technology is changing how we relate to one another as it is happening.
We’re living in a time of major flux, a real transition in our culture and it would be wonderful if we were aware of what was happening as it is happening. So let’s take a momentary glance at Facebook and the rest of technology that we use every day and see the importance in starting The Great Mindful Experiment.
Some say the fact that most of us are so filled with self-judgment is an evolutionary impulse to keep us safe from danger. If the mind is constantly on the lookout for what’s wrong, we’re more likely to be prepared for it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson lays out the problem:
“Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine.”
Or maybe Nelson Mandela echoing Marianne Williamson’s words says it best:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
Very good question Marianne.
Whether it’s an evolutionary automatic negativity bias or a developmentally constructed belief system from wounding as a child or both, the fact is, many of us are afraid of our own light. Something in us heavily guards against it saying, “I can’t do that,” or “I’m no good at this,” or “That’s not important.” And then the shadow is created.
A few days ago while waking up in the morning I found myself automatically drawn to making my morning coffee and checking the email on my phone. There was my 2 year old little boy playing beside me as I sipped my warm drink. A thought popped in my mind, “Why are you checking your email when you could be enjoying your coffee and this sweet moment with your little boy next to you?” “Good question,” I replied to myself as I put down the phone and tuned into the morning.
But something interesting followed.
As this New Year dawns on us, how about we don’t set rigid New Year’s resolutions, but instead see this year as a practice. There is some implied rule within resolutions that we’ll actually stick to them and when we don’t, we set ourselves up for the same old habitual mind traps that have kept us stuck in the past.
“I’ve failed once again,” arises, leading to a sense of sluggishness and the next thought, “What’s the point?”
There’s another way.
It’s important to set goals for ourselves and create plans to reach those goals; this is the underpinning of cultivating hope. Hope is our greatest antidepressant.
There are a few steps we can take to make a resilient New Year:
The reason so many of us are drawn to the idea of getting unstuck is because feeling stuck in life is such a common experience. Maybe we continually get distracted at work as projects mount or get hooked into the same arguments in our relationships, or just can’t seem to get back on the treadmill.
Feeling stuck is part of the human experience. So how do we get unstuck?
There are a lot of books and writings we all get our hands on that speak to changing our lives or transforming ourselves in some way or another.
We all suffer in life. Whether it’s deep emotional pain, physical pain, or just wanting to avoid an upcoming work project, the mind is constantly on the lookout for how to fix this suffering.
However, what we are often times offered is a romantic version for how to alleviate the suffering. We read the book or watch the programs that tell us simple steps on how to change our lives. These in themselves can be helpful, but not if we don’t do the work.
The truth is, real transformation and change takes a kind of discipline and can be hard work.
In an earlier post I published Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D’s article focusing on why empathy can be a two edged sword which became very popular, and I later interviewed him about why recent research in the field of neuroscience has been largely a waste of money. Jeff is a psychiatrist, researcher in neuroplasticity and internationally recognized expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He is also author of the popular books Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior and The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force.
Today I bring Jeff back to tell us about how mindfulness and his 4 step process can not only help us break free from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but be a path toward greater stress management and well-being.