Whenever I go through a period of an arthritic inflammation, I end up feeling sorry for myself and thinking of myself as a victim, which leads to feeling depressed. I often end up with an image of myself in a wheelchair. What gets me out of that state of mind is the practice of mindfulness and acceptance—two very related practices.
Mindfulness allows me to become aware of my very unhealthy thinking. Acceptance allows me to accept and fully experience my feelings. There is no struggle to get rid of the unhealthy ways of thinking. Trying to dispute the validity of my feared images has proven far less effective than accepting them.
In my case, fear and depression are the result of being entangled with the belief that my pain and disability will progress until I can no longer do any of the things I enjoy. Of course, given the level of pain and disability I already have at age 67, with advancing age, all of that may well become reality. But, things are not that bad yet, except in my mind.
Mindfulness allows me to disentangle from all that unhealthy thinking. Acceptance and awareness allows me to get my mind out of fear of disease progression, which creates additional stress, making my fears more likely to become a reality.
Commit to a daily mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness practice is what allows us to begin this journey. The easiest way to learn mindfulness and to maintain such a practice is to:
- Sign up for an 8-week MBSR class (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction). These classes are found in every large metropolitan area.
- Alternatively, you could take introductory workshops followed by a weekend retreat at the Buddhist meditation center in your region.
Mindfulness is not an intellectual theory. It is a practice. In fact, it is more than a practice—it is a way of life. Here is another type of mindfulness practice:
Hara, Tanden, Tan T’ien
In Asian cultures and especially in the Asian martial arts, the mind resides in the lower abdomen in an area known by the above three names. In lying down, sitting in a chair, standing, and walking, the attention can be placed in the lower abdomen. Maintaining our attention in this area of the body is an outstanding mindfulness practice and a way of life. When the mind resides in this area, we feel more grounded, more connected to the earth, more calm and centered. Here are the basics of Hara, which I teach in my classes:
- Breathe diaphragmatically with longer out-breaths. The breathing should not be forced. Over time, this type of diaphragmatic breathing will become your natural way of breathing. To learn it, I recommend getting a session with a biofeedback practitioner—request RSA training.
- Imagine lowering your center of gravity while standing upright and walking. Diaphragmatic breathing and keeping the upper body relaxed helps lower the center of gravity.
- Keep your upper body relaxed except for the brief moments of needing strength. It is your lower body that supports you in sitting, getting up, sitting in a chair, standing, and walking.
Every time you notice that you have lapsed in your awareness and practice, without judgment, simply resume practicing. Note where your mind went off to and then, without analyzing it, immediately return to focusing on the above.
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