Mindfulness, Purposefulness, and Weird, Waving Squirrels
by Catie Martin
Imagine that you’re just waking up, you’re relaxing in a nice comfy, cushiony chair on a frosty morning, hands hugging a mug of steaming-hot cocoa as you gaze out the window enjoying the sparkling, sunlit snow. Suddenly, the most beautiful, brown squirrel you’ve ever seen hops onto your window sill, looks at you for a moment, then lifts a tiny paw, and waves at you!
It would certainly be a moment you remembered vividly for the rest of your life: the amazingly beautiful squirrel, the surge of joy-fright-fascination you felt when the squirrel stared at you and waved (and wasn’t that squirrel smiling, also?). Later, you would excitedly tell all of your friends and family about your incredible experience…and then refuse to tell anyone, because everybody you told looked at you funny and gave you interesting new names, such as “Little Miss Strange,” Squirrelita,” and “Nut Case.”
OK, maybe it would be a bit too weird, but: what if you found that there was a way for you to experience your daily life–even without imaginary squirrels waving Good Morning to you–more vividly, more joyfully than you do today? Well, turns out that there is a way known as Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware and fully awake to the present–THIS moment, NOW. It doesn’t require expensive equipment, fancy outfits, or a special diet. You can do it in your room, in your car, as you walk to and from class, or on the Moon (although the On-the-Moon Mindfulness just might require special equipment, like, say, an oxygen tank).
Practicing mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to things as they are.
So, what does that mean?
“Practicing” mindfulness is just that: practice. You practice being right here, right now. One way you can start practicing mindfulness is to set an alarm to wake up but, instead of jumping right out of bed, just stay there: take a few slow, gentle-but-fairly-deep breaths, paying attention to such things as: how warm or cold does the bedroom feel? What sounds do you hear? Look around: what do you see? Smell? How does your body feel, as you awaken to your day? Notice the sensation of your breath passing in and out of your nose or mouth. Choosing to pay attention in this mindful fashion to the moments that make up your life–taking a shower, eating, brushing your teeth–is purposefulness, and you can practice it any time, any place.
In the Present Moment:
Let’s say, in our earlier, imaginary example, you were sitting in your comfy chair, with your steamy cocoa, but you were reminded of a nasty comment that someone had posted about you last night on Facebook. You might start thinking about how angry you were, how wronged and maybe ashamed you felt, even what you’re going to say/do the very next time you see the person who posted about you.
Now, with all of that stuff swirling around in your head, would you have even noticed the comfy chair, sparkling snow, the cocoa, or even the squirrel? Doubtful. The moment would come and disappear, and you would miss it completely.
By mindfully focusing on what’s happening right now, much of the “he said/she said” stuff* starts to become less devastating.
*However, if that stuff is getting out of hand, and maybe you’re being bullied, whether online or elsewhere, or you just need to talk about something that’s really, really bothering you, why don’t you make an appointment at Corner Health ? It can make a big difference.
Our thoughts are our friends… except when they’re not. When we learn to see thoughts as events in the mind, rather than “me,” or “reality,” we can begin to label our thoughts as just that: thoughts.
As an experiment, try this: for two minutes, see if you can’t just watch your thoughts, as they pass through your mind, each one like a cloud. Try labeling each thought: Not, “I should be doing homework,” for example, but instead: “I’m having a thought about homework;” not: “I hate that person,” but: “I’m having angry thoughts about that person.”
It’s way harder to control–or even follow–the “rush hour traffic” of thoughts zooming around inside of our heads, all trying to get our attention. Mindfulness asks us to simply notice our thoughts, not to control them…it’s so that they don’t control us.
Next time, we’ll talk about Mindful Meditation.
About Catie Martin
Catie Martin, LMSW is the Corner Health Center's in-house improv master and therapist extraordinaire. Little known fact: therapists with a sense of humor are better than therapists without a sense of humor.Counseling, Depression, Mental Health. Bookmark the permalink.