Mindfulness: Being in the Present

As I thought about what I specifically wanted to write about mindfulness this week, I had a little difficulty narrowing things down. The concept of mindfulness has a lot of components to it, so I decided to just write. The prospective post was slowly becoming a chapter in a book and without the proper context, could be confusing.

So I stopped writing and I reminded myself that when I really began to learn mindfulness, I didn’t jump in all at once. I started with smaller, manageable parts and once I was comfortable in my understanding and practice, I added another component.

I use mindfulness to help manage my anxiety and depression. If I had to pick any one part of mindfulness that is the most important it would be being in the present moment with our thoughts.   This, in my opinion, is the foundation for mindfulness.

Being in the moment does not mean that you never plan ahead. Nor does it mean that you completely ignore the past. Being in the moment means to me that:

1. You accept that you cannot change the past and when you accept this fact, you let go of it and, with the lessons learned, you move ahead.  Your past does not control nor does it define you.

2. You accept that you do not know what will happen in the future, nor can you control it. When you accept this, you let go of your need to control your environment.

3. You accept the thoughts that pop into your head as what they are: just thoughts. You don’t assign labels such as good or bad to them. They are thoughts and they are there. When you can accept this, you let go of the need to label things.

Notice the theme? Mindfulness is both accepting that which you cannot control and letting go of those things that no longer serve you.

I come by my anxiety naturally. It runs in my family. I did not have an anxiety disorder until I was 40. I believe that an event triggered my anxiety disorder, which is what I deal with now.

I had no coping skills before I learned mindfulness. I was never taught how to cope. Rather than work through what I happened to be feeling, I was constantly told to “suck it up” or that what I felt wasn’t important.   Because I had no outlet for my feelings or a healthy way to cope with them, I developed a bad habit of dwelling on things beyond my control. Instead of concerning myself with what was happening at the moment, I stewed over past hurts and fretted over things that may not even happen.

Dwelling on things beyond your control holds you back from life. I blamed my past and mourned for the childhood I wished I’d had for much of my adult life. I was caught up in “If only things had been different…”

Wishing things were different doesn’t make it so. But yet, I dwelled.

Growing up in an environment filled with verbal abuse, I do believe that mourning for the childhood I wished I’d had is a part of the process that you go through in order to come to terms with past emotional trauma. You have to come to terms with it before you can let go.  Some people go through this stage quickly; others struggle with it for a long period of time.

Mindfulness is not easy to achieve, especially when you have anxiety. Anxiety is this nasty little demon that sits on your shoulder and whispers things into your ear that cause you to doubt yourself, second-guess yourself and takes your focus off of the present and puts it on events that may or may not even happen. Then you spend your energy and time worrying about things you don’t even know what will happen. The life and the spark and the enthusiasm you had disappears, to be replaced by panic and fear of the unknown.

I began mindfulness practice by learning meditation. I feel this is the best way to train yourself to learn how to focus on the present. When you meditate, you’re focusing on the breath. When thoughts pop up in your head, instead of latching onto them, you return your focus on your breath.  Doing this doesn’t mean the thoughts will go away; on the contrary, those thoughts are still there. Because you are focused on your breathing, your mind is not dwelling on your to-do list or your bank balance or that one girl you went to school with who picked on you and some twenty years later, you’re still beating yourself up for not having a snappy comeback.

Breathing in meditation is not like typical breathing. In meditation, as well as yoga, you breathe from your belly and you breathe deeply.

If you are interested in starting mindfulness meditation, one of the best, non-religious sources I’ve found is the Meditation Oasis podcast, which you can subscribe to through iTunes or go to their website meditationoasis.com.

This is a good place to start, particularly if religion concerns you. This podcast and the guided meditations do not deal with eastern religions that much.  Meditation Oasis also offers smartphone apps to help you with a guided meditation. (Most of these apps are not free.)

Practice

For this week: Practice deep breathing. Find a comfortable seating position. It can be in a chair, cross-legged on the floor, lying down, or whatever makes you feel comfortable.  (I have to sit on the floor when I do this. In partial hospital, I had to ask to sit on the floor because it works better for me to do that. Sit in whatever position you feel most comfortable.)

When you inhale, mentally say to yourself, “I’m breathing in.” On the exhale, mentally say “I’m breathing out.”  (Or you can say it out loud if it helps you). Say the words as you would normally speak them and time your breath to go with the words.  Don’t make the words fit with the breath because if your breathing is too shallow, the words will become rushed. The point is to relax and to learn to control the breath.

If you think you’re ready to try guided meditation, find a guided meditation you like. There are audio books, CD’s, podcasts or  You Tube videos featuring guided meditations. Or put on some calm music and do the breathing exercise above. Keep your focus on the breath.

If you find that your thoughts are starting to wander, bring your attention back to the breath. More importantly, don’t scold yourself for losing focus. It is normal for our thoughts to wander. The point of this exercise is to learn how to let your thoughts just be and keep your awareness on the present.

This is a practice and it takes time, effort and patience to improve.

 

A Year of Mindfulness

 

Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate nor am I receiving compensation for the links to Meditation Oasis.com and it’s smartphone apps. If you purchase something through them, I do not receive compensation. This is a site I have found useful in my own mindfulness practice and simply want to pass it along to others who may also find it useful.

Twisted Mix-tape Tuesday: And Bad Mistakes…I’ve Made A Few

After a holiday hiatus, Twisted Mix-Tape Tuesday is back, bitches!!!

The theme for this week is Past Mistakes.  I don’t like to dwell on the past too much. It’s not very mindful to obsess about past mistakes. But I did come up with a list of songs that have to do with mistakes, regrets and whatnot.

1. Little Too Late-Pat Benatar

I brainstormed this topic before hunting songs and this was the first “past mistake” song that popped into my head.

2. I Hate Everything About You-Ugly Kid Joe

This song was featured on my Angry White Chick playlist after my first marriage ended.  That and Alanis Morrisette’s You Ought To Know.  Divorce is hard. There’s so many mixed emotions in the pot: sadness, feeling like a failure, regret, anger, fear, and bitterness among others.

3. Cat’s in the Cradle-Harry Chapin

Perhaps the ultimate song about regrets and past mistakes. (Plus I swear I did not look at anyone else’s list.)  I actually remember hearing this on the radio a lot during the 1970s.

4. Bittersweet Symphony-The Verve

Besides loving this song to death, I included it because in the lyrics, the singer seems to waver between wanting to change and being afraid to change. While a mistake may not have been made, the potential for regret is there.

And because I can’t dwell on past mistakes….

5. No Regrets-Tom Cochrane

It’s not healthy to dwell on past mistakes. When I leave this world, I want it to be with no regrets.

A Year of Mindfulness

This year, I will be posting more on mindfulness and I’m excited about it, because it’s something I really want to share with everyone. Mindfulness has helped me cope better with things and it has changed my life.

I’ve decided that 2014 will be A Year of Mindfulness. I will share with you those things I learned about mindfulness, especially those parts of mindfulness that has changed my life. Learning how to be mindful has had a profound effect on my life.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present.” A person practicing mindfulness observes their thoughts and feelings from a distance and without judgment. They acknowledge the existence of these thoughts and feelings, but they do not dwell on them nor obsess over them. They do not label them good or bad.

Those thoughts and feelings are just there.

Mindfulness is something you do and something you practice. It’s a process and an evolving one at that. There are nine components to mindfulness that I will highlight in a future post.

What Mindfulness is Not

Many people will hear the term “mindfulness” and immediately think that it means you have to become a Buddhist.

While mindfulness has its roots in Zen Buddhism, you do not have to sit in the lotus position, burn incense or chant to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not difficult. Being mindful can be as simple as choosing to keep calm as you navigate your way through Wal-Mart on Friday after work.

The most important thing to remember about mindfulness is that it involves being in the present moment.

How Mindfulness Has Helped Me

Last summer, I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital because my depression and anxiety had gotten to the point where I was having thoughts about harming myself. I needed help and I needed it now. Except there was one problem.

My needing help did not fit into the clinic’s schedule. In other words, my psychiatrist was booked up and didn’t have an opening for a couple of weeks.

A couple weeks wouldn’t cut it. I needed help now. So as the days went by, I sat and dwelled in my negative thoughts and grew even more depressed and anxious until that one day, I began having thoughts about harming myself.

I like to write things down and writing or journaling is a way that I vent. I don’t have very good coping skills and writing was one of the few that I had.  I wrote down those feelings. And when I read them, they scared me. When my husband came home from work, I showed him what I’d written down, and that’s when we decided together, that I needed to go to Avera Behavioral.

I spent one week as an inpatient and then the next four weeks involved in an intensive outpatient therapy program.  One of the things I learned was how to be mindful.

Mindfulness is being recognized by the psychiatric community and is part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.

When I learned mindfulness, I learned how to cope better.  Among the things I’ve learned are:

  1. I don’t instantly react to things. It’s easier to step back for a moment before reacting.
  2. It helps me manage my anxiety and depression by staying in the moment and not obsessing things over things I can’t control.
  3. I keep focused on what really matters in life.
  4. I’ve let go of attachment to other people and things, which in turn, makes me more content.

 

In the coming year, I will be writing more on mindfulness, what works for me, what doesn’t work for me and why it’s so important to recognize that becoming more mindful will help you live a fuller, and more satisfying life.

moment of zen

And That’s a Wrap on the 2013 Season

I haven’t been recapping games lately because, to be honest, Twitter wasn’t fun. The chips were down and fans were sniping at each other and all that and, well, Twitter was not fun anymore.

Until today.

Green Bay won the division and made the playoffs. However, they lost to the 49ers, again.  I can only speak for myself, but this loss was easier to take, since the Packers were in this game until the end. The last few playoff games, it seemed like they’d given up early on. When it looks like your team has no heart and has given up, the loss hurts more because you don’t want to blame your own team; yet it’s your team that looks like a deflated balloon.

I’m trying to be more positive in my life. Some people mistake this for me denying that anything is wrong. That is not the case.  I practice mindfulness. I acknowledge that the bad is there; however, I choose not to dwell on it, because I have no control over this.

I won’t deny that the Packers need to make some changes in how they do things. But that’s up to them and they can only make that change if they acknowledge that a change needs to be made. If and when they do this is out of my hands.

I’m going to end this season on a positive note.  Here are a few silver linings in the Packers’ losing today.

1.  All of the wounded players will have lots of time to heal without people screaming for them to “man up” or “put a cast on it”.

2. Aaron Rodgers will be back on Twitter sooner.

3. I’ve always said this was a gut check season and now that it’s over, I hope that the people who need to will take the time to reflect on it.

4. We owe a lot of our season to Matt Flynn.

5. Eddie Lacy was the brightest spot when things got dark. If he doesn’t get Rookie of the Year, I will lose all faith in humanity.

6. Phillip Rivers’ bolo tie got it’s own Twitter account. Many people panned his choice in neckwear

7. My Twitter feed was funny. Among the highlights:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Harbaugh’s pleated khaki pants got a lot of mileage today.

I hope that next season, the Packers play better, there are fewer injuries, the defense learns to tackle and Twitter is funny again during games.  I really like recapping and sharing the tweets that make me laugh.

I have not yet decided if I’m going to live-blog the Super Bowl again. On the one hand, it was excruciating last year to try and be funny about filler, but on the other hand, you people are freakin’ hilarious and the world needs to see that.

I will close out the Packers’ 2013 season with this week’s photobomb.

via Packers.com

Yeah, But It’s Our Shit Hole

While the rest of the media was fixated on the arctic temperatures predicted for kickoff of the Packers-49ers Wild Card playoff game, another story flew under the radar.

Anthony Davis of the 49ers, tweeted something on Saturday night that did not go over well with the locals or Packers fans in other parts of the world.

 

Mr. Davis, it should be made clear for the record, is from New Jersey. And no offense to my friends from New Jersey, New Jersey is generally regarded by the rest of the country as a shit hole. I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the TV program Jersey Shore, but the impression is there.  New Jersey gave us Springsteen, but it also associated itself with a creature known as The Guido.

I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions and if you feel the place you’re visiting is a “shit hole”, that’s fine. But if you’re a professional athlete spending the night in your opponent’s yard, you don’t go to Twitter or other forms of social media to actually say it.  That’s an opinion you keep to yourself or only share among those you know aren’t going to broadcast it to the entire world.

Well, now that Mr. Davis’ tweet got Packer Nation and the people who live in Northeastern Wisconsin all riled up.

But wait! There’s more!

 

So, your home is never a shit hole (even though it is), but it’s okay for other people to call it a shit hole and you don’t have the right to get angry that someone else called your home, which is not a shit hole, a shit hole.

Okay. Got it.

(P.S. You might want to refrain from speaking on this subject because the more you defend yourself, the more you look like a douchebag.)

Green Bay and the Fox Valley aren’t perfect. I used to live there. There are pockets of both places that most people would call a “shit hole”. Every place has a bad part of town. The city of Kaukauna is famous for its distinct “aroma”; eau de Thilmany. The entire Fox Valley is an example of issuing building permits without planning for things like, oh, roads that can handle increased traffic or planning where buildings go.  It’s urban sprawl gone horribly wrong. Neenah, in the summer, reeks of algae from the branch of the Fox River that flows through town. They have this pretty little river walk that becomes not so pretty when it gets hot and the algae forms.  Then there’s the foundry smell and the city’s obsession with roundabouts. Menasha is old and around the time I moved away, was becoming the town of choice for meth heads and such.  The mayor of Green Bay seems to be more preoccupied with naming one of the streets in town after Coach McCarthy (even though many Packers fans believe that doing so will jinx the team and McCarthy will leave) than trying to fix up the bad parts of town.

If that wasn’t ammunition enough for Packers fans to get loud, then, we discovered, that the 49ers flew in Ric Flair, a washed up wrestler, to give their motivational speech.

 

 

To be honest, Shit Hole-gate amuses me more than it outrages me. This is the type of thing that nurtures my snark and makes it grow until it yields a bumper crop of snarky, yet hilarious tweets.

Maybe it’s how I was raised, but you don’t go into someone else’s house and call it a shit hole to their face. You bite your tongue and then when you’re gone, then you are free to express it.

But it’s our shit hole and well, we don’t like people from other places calling our home a “shit hole”. Only we get to do that. We Midwesterners are particularly not fond of  smug people from both coasts saying bad things about where we live. I think that’s another component to the outrage.

It’s sort of like the weather. We Midwesterners will complain and bitch and moan about this Arctic Vortex of Air Cold enough to freeze the snot that’s up in your sinuses, but when someone from another part of the country goes on and on about our weather being bad, we Midwesterners will rise up to defend our crappy weather and imply that you’re a pansy.

Because only we get to complain about our weather. And our “shit hole” towns.