The New Year is upon us. It is time to make those resolutions that will bring about happiness for us; losing weight, re-doing the kitchen, taking a class, exercising more, eating more vegetables…you know those resolutions…the ones we never get around to and, then, add to our resolution’s list the following year, right? This year I am going to challenge you to make just one New Year’s Resolution; to build a path to a new you through mindfulness! If you are ready to take this challenge, read on!
In this article, you will learn how mindfulness is beneficial in everyday life and how it can enhance your recovery and your life. Let’s start by defining what mindfulness is. As all the great leaders of mindfulness, such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn, teach us; mindfulness is about paying attention to what you are doing and what is going on around you. Mindfulness is the art of paying attention with a non-judging, patient and accepting mind, moment by moment. Mindfulness is about living with openness – as if seeing things for the first time and experiencing possibilities by paying attention to all feedback in the present moment. This sounds easy, yet mindfulness takes practice. This article will help you learn how to practice mindfulness.
How do you begin incorporating mindfulness in your life? You can begin by instilling certain qualities in your daily life. Mindfulness incorporates many important qualities. Let’s consider four of the most important qualities of mindfulness:
- Non-conceptual – Mindfulness is awareness without being tied into the thought process; just being aware and noticing
- Present-centered – Mindfulness is always in the present moment. Ask yourself, “Am I in the present right this moment?” “Am I present when I am eating, talking, listening, driving…?”
- Non-judgmental – Mindfulness means being aware and observing without judging.
- Intentional – One of the most important elements of mindfulness is intention. Mindfulness always includes an intention. Ask yourself, “What is my intention in this present moment?”
Rebecca Wingo, one of the founders of The Mindfulness Center of Southern Maine, gives the acronym C.O.A.L to help people to remember to be mindful. C.O.A.L stands for curiosity, open-minded, acceptance and loving-kindness. Incorporating these four additional qualities adds to your practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness can lead us cultivate the happiness we deserve and to nurture the ability to balance our minds and our lives. When looking at nurturing, we are going to consider four concepts: The Circle of Liberation, Gains for Practicing Mindfulness, Self-regulation and Creating a Vision of a New You. Think of mindfulness as a tool to nurture yourself and your relationships.
THE CIRCLE OF LIBERATION
The Circle of Liberation is taken from the book, Cultivating Lasting Happiness by Terry Fralich. The Circle of Liberation is a guide to use for mindfulness meditation or just a few minutes of practicing and sitting mindfully in the present. The Circle of Liberation first brings us to focus. In practicing mindfulness meditation, we first focus on exhaling; holding our focus lightly, then inhaling. Because we are humans, inevitably, the energy of the mind will take our focus away, leading to distraction. Examples of distractions might be noises we hear or they might be thoughts we are having, such as, “Did I remember to pay that bill?” or “What am I going to prepare for dinner tonight?” When distraction happens, we might notice an ache or pain in our bodies or we might become nervous, anxious, impatient or restless. This is expected! It is not a personal failure or defect in your brain. It is proof that you are human.
Thus, the circle reminds us that it is not possible to stay focused all the time. So, just notice the distraction and notice what is going on in your mind, with your emotions and in your body. As you can see in the circle, distraction is at 3:00. When you notice that you are no longer paying attention to the distraction, you can than move to the 6:00 point of the circle. In noticing the distraction, you have done something very important; you have come to AWARENESS! You have successfully switched back to being mindful. You have opened up to spacious awareness.
You can then move to the 9:00 point; returning to release and letting of the distraction. Keep in mind that the distraction might not instantly disappear, yet with awareness, you can return your attention to exhaling, inhaling and making the breath the center of your attention. The distraction will, then, move to the edge of awareness, becoming softer and quieter and may disappear completely. After release, you can return back to 12:00 and complete the circle with gentleness and kindness for yourself.
The Circle of Liberation is useful because it gives us a clear, straightforward way of opening our minds to a practice of mindfulness. The thing to keep in mind is to keep the practice simple; focus, notice the distractions, become aware, release and return to focus. When we practice mindfulness using the Circle of Liberation, we are nurturing skills that are useful in everyday life.
GAINS FOR PRACTICING MINDFULNESS
We can gain a sense of peace and joy in our daily lives by practicing mindfulness. Let’s explore other gains/benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation:
- Attention and concentration – When we bring attention to our breath, we are choosing a focal point and willfully directing our attention to our breath. When we consciously make the choice to nurture our ability to hold that attention, we are strengthening our power of concentration. When distraction pops up, we can bring our attention back, again and again if needed; training our mind to be stable. This is helpful in other areas besides mindfulness meditation. We can start training our mind to concentrate at a deeper level when we are reading a book, watching a show, playing with our dog or cat, working…
- Presence in the moment – By strengthening our attention and concentration, we nurture our ability to be present in the moment. The benefit of being in the present moment is that we can connect with just being human.
- Patience and endurance – When we practice mindfulness, even for a few minutes, we are strengthening patience. In just sitting and being mindful, we might get restless and wish our mind would not pull in distractions, so we just continue sitting and bringing ourselves back to focus and calm. When we do this, we are developing greater patience; a skill we can use in our daily lives. Endurance comes naturally from patience. Patience helps us endure what arises in our lives. The lack of endurance can get us in trouble. If we think we cannot endure the pain of old experiences, of triggers and of negative messages, what might we do? We might abuse substances, give into other addictions or withdraw into depression or anxiety. The thought that we cannot endure a situation often creates more of a mess in our lives. Practicing mindfulness helps us realize that we can endure more than we thought we could. We can learn that we do not need to be afraid of whatever arises or whatever we are dealing with by practicing mindfulness. We can endure!
- Acceptance, kindness and compassion – Did you notice that word “acceptance” again? We can learn to be so much more accepting with practicing mindfulness. Acceptance, kindness and compassion all embody being non-judgmental. We can practice replacing judgment with acceptance. From acceptance, we can move to kindness and compassion for ourselves and others. Imagine what it would be like to move through your day with an attitude of kindness for yourself and friendliness toward your imperfections. What would it be like to experience deep compassion for yourself in this moment? As you are reading this article, close your eyes for a moment and just imagine this. This is the foundation for happiness that mindfulness can build. With mindfulness, you can develop a new energy of kindness and compassion for yourself.
- Balance – Balance is simple word, yet it is a challenging concept. It can be difficult. It can be tough to keep ourselves in balance in many circumstances. It can be easy to bring balance to waiting in line at a store, yet it can be difficult to bring balance in the face of serious illness or when dealing with trauma and addictions. Full and complete balance means being liberated from suffering. Mindfulness practice nurtures balance. All the gains we have previously discussed; acceptance, presence, endurance, kindness and compassion help move us to balance. Developing confidence in all these aspects helps us build a structure for balance.
- Insight – By engaging in the practice of mindfulness, we gain insight into how our minds work. We gain more insight into ourselves and the environment around us.
Self-regulation takes into account all the concepts and benefits that we have discussed in this article. Self-regulation is about maintaining a sense of mindfulness when faced with a crisis. Self-regulation means to recognize challenging thoughts and reactions and, then, manage these thoughts and reactions. We can begin self-regulation with mindfulness; switching from auto pilot to identifying that we are getting triggered. When we experience fight, flight or freeze, the earlier we pay attention, the better we can use the wisdom of our body to regulate our mind. Pay attention to the wisdom of your body to bring yourself back to calm; stop, breathe, reflect and choose your reaction.
One way to accomplish this is through imagery. Imagery helps us move to the positive and helps us get rid of old messages that have had a hold on us.
Here are some guidelines to Imagery:
Guidelines for Self-Regulation Imagery
- Be patient until you have discovered an image that is unconditionally positive for you. Choose an image that is not tinged with anxiety, uneasiness or guilt.
- Explore a wide variety of possible images. Your image might be a favorite pet or a place in nature that is comforting for you. It may be the face of a loved one or an image that has a spiritual connection for you. It is important that the image you select makes you smile, warms your heart or softens your body or energy when you think of the image.
- If you have discovered an image that is really good for you, but not quite working for you, feel free to change or modify the image in any way that does make it work for you. Add or delete something. For example, if it is a place in nature where you had a wonderful experience, yet there was an aspect of the setting that was distracting, just remove or change it in some way as you begin to work with the image.
- Experiment with creating a visual picture of your image in your mind’s eye. Practice sharpening your image, adding as much detail and making it as clear as possible.
- Energize your relationship with your image. Spend some time with your image – bring your image to mind when you don’t really need it for self-regulation. This exercises your self-regulation muscle. By energizing your relationship with your image at times when you are not being challenged by negative energies, you are strengthening your neurological and emotional response to the image. Then, when you are ready to settle yourself, to self-regulate and regain all resources of your brain, the use of your image will be as effective as possible.
- When you need to self-regulate (settle any challenging energies or emotions), bring your attention to your image with determination to hold it there. If you can visualize a mental picture of your image, you might find it helpful to focus on a specific part of your body (heart area, middle of forehead…) and visualize your image there. Allow yourself to open to the qualities your image evokes for you.
(From the book: Cultivating Lasting Happiness; A 7 Step Guide to Mindfulness by Terry Fralich)
Self-regulation is a key to mental health and general well-being. Here is a four word reminder to help you build a practice of self-regulation:
- Recognize – recognize that you are stuck
- Refrain – refrain from speech or actions until you have settled yourself with a self-regulation practice
- Relax – relax into your practice and into yourself
- Resolve – resolve to recognize when you are stuck and practice self-regulation.
Another way to practice self-regulation is to visualize a safe place. This is similar to the “Guidelines for Self-Regulation Imagery.” Visualize a safe place for yourself. This might be at a lake, in the mountains, or in your own back yard. Visualize yourself there with the worries of the day and the stresses of life melting away. See yourself sitting or lying down on a blanket, or whatever feels safe for you. This is a place where you can just be…and be safe to have your thoughts and feelings. Spend some time visualizing this safe place and the comfort this place offers you. Know that any time you need to or want to, you can return to your safe place.
CREATING A VISION OF A NEW YOU FOR THE NEW YEAR!
A vision of a new you is about honoring yourself and becoming successful in being open to a new vision of yourself. Creating a vision of a new you is about building a foundation for the life you want, taking into account that you need to take risks. Sometimes, we need to resist getting stuck in the security of the familiar. We stay in jobs or relationships far too long when they make us miserable or diminish our sense of self. This is human nature. We cling to what we know for fear of what is unknown. What would it be like to face these situations with a new vision of who you are? I challenge you to open your imagination to the possibility of who you are. Mindfulness can lead to a realization of your true basic nature, your true potential and your true greatness!
A big part of creating this new vision of yourself is forgiving yourself. When we practice forgiveness for ourselves and others, we allow ourselves to become more fully open to a new vision of ourselves. The truth is that harming others and being hurt will happen in the human world. When others do things that bring pain for us, we might carry resentment and anger. When we do things to ourselves that bring pain, we carry guilt. This resentment, anger and guilt undermine our sense of self. Carrying resentment, anger and guilt closes our hearts to our true nature and to awareness of possibilities that are available to us. If you continue thinking you are justified in carrying anger or resentment or you believe you deserve guilt or self-hatred, continuing to carry these prevents achieving what you truly desire in life. Keep in mind that forgiveness does not condone hurtful behaviors. Forgiveness brings opportunities to learn from mistakes and set the intention to make healthier choices. Incorporating mindfulness in your life offers a vehicle for setting and maintaining the intention of forgiveness.
WRITING A PERSONAL VOW FOR THE NEW YEAR
Now, that you have learned how mindfulness can help you build a path to a new you, let’s go back to that old idea of a New Year’s Resolution and change that resolution to a personal vow you will make for yourself for 2014. Writing a personal vow is about honoring aspirations to awaken your better self – what a great way to begin the New Year! When we write a personal vow, we call upon help and send messages to the universe. These messages reverberate back to us and bring us to awareness. Writing a personal vow helps us on the path to transformation. The personal vow is a four line promise we make to ourselves. The four line phrase is as follows:
- When I… (describe a shortcoming or habit pattern you wish to release)
- I vow with the help of… (place your needs and concerns in the arms of support)
- To let go of… (describe the belief that fuels your patterns)
- And… (describe what you want to replace your shortcoming/habit with)
Here are two examples:
- When I want to drink, I vow with the help of my Higher Power, to let go of my craving and receive the support of my sponsor.
- When I hear my inner critic, I vow with the help of affirmations, to let go of self-doubt and accept myself for the precious person I am.
So, are you ready? Take time now to write your own personal vow for 2014. Place your written vow in a place where you will see it every day. Make your “resolution” for the New Year to be about honoring yourself by practicing awareness and mindfulness. Break away from the tradition of writing resolutions that often bog us down or we never can get down. Build a path to a new you through honoring your one personal vow and practicing mindfulness throughout 2014!
Cultivating Lasting Happiness – A 7 Step Guide to Mindfulness by Terry Fralich
Mindfulness and the 12 Steps by Terese-Jacobs Stewart
12 Steps on Buddha’s Path by Laura S
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Wherever You Go, There you Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Peace in Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh