From Thinking To Being: The Mindful Solution To Daily Stress
December 4, 2014
Thinking, thinking, thinking. The mind is a stream, a rapid succession of thought layered upon thought, into a swirl of fear, hope, loathing, delight, discomfort, anger, relief and pain, where calm and peace for many of us are but mental concepts rather than actual experiences. In the absence of awareness, we swing back and forth between attraction and aversion, moving toward what feels good and turning away from what feels bad, through coping mechanisms so automatic they slip from our notice. Unexamined coping mechanisms can keep us from satisfying experiences and become a form of self-sabotage that creates distance from our natural inclination for joy. Many of us fall victim to the constant swing of emotions without realizing that what we are thinking is causing the swing. While outside circumstances can certainly generate a stress response, much of what we are responding to stressfully arises from the content of what we are thinking rather than the situation itself. But what can we do to change? How do we interrupt the stream of mindlessness that keeps us from ever truly relaxing?
Mindfulness is a skill that involves focusing your attention into the nonreactive awareness of your thoughts, your body and your feelings, making it possible for you to participate fully in the present moment. When we are not fully present in the face of a stressful situation, you can be sure our minds and egos are reacting to what we think is happening rather than what is actually happening. Our reactions are strengthened through a lifetime of conditioning, assumptions, misinformed self-concepts and unappraised thoughts that formulate our view of ourselves and the world. Mindfulness helps us drop out of all this ‘mind stuff’, down into the direct experience of immediate and undiluted reality. This is where the possibility of liberating ourselves from habitual stress responses lies.
Becoming mindful means becoming aware. True awareness requires a dropping of thoughts, a deliberate turning away from engagement with thought and toward watchfulness of it instead. In order to change the thoughts that generate disturbance in our consciousness, we must become accountable for the content of our thinking and be willing to let it go, even if only for a moment. The next time you are experiencing stress, take a moment to notice what you are thinking. Imagine you are watching yourself from a distance, as though these thoughts are scenes crossing a projection screen; take a momentary retreat from default reactivity and personalization. For instance, say your teenager who was supposed to be home at a certain time is an hour late, has not called, and you find you are gripped with worry. Before you allow the worry to spin into a fully-fleshed tale of your kid wrecked in a ditch somewhere, take a moment to pause, take a deep breath and notice the mental spiral. It is just as likely that your child has lost track of time or is already on the way home, and the stress you are causing yourself is unwarranted. The stress itself occludes your access to clear thinking. To discharge it and calm these responses, tune into your body’s reactions, i. e. upset in the belly, clenched teeth, tensing shoulders, etc. When you have been able to clear some of the smoke from your reactionary responses, and it is safe to think again, you can move back into the moment where the reality is only that your child is not yet home, and decide with calm and presence what action to take.
Mindfulness is a practice and includes a set of tools such as meditation, conscious breathing, and witness consciousness. The success of mindfulness comes from the willingness to let go of what we are telling ourselves is true, and from cultivating a level of compassion for ourselves and others. Developing a healthy suspicion for what we are thinking, especially when we notice we are experiencing stress, goes a long way toward changing thought patterns we are in traction to. Thoughts are vacillations in a mind that has been trained by society, by upbringing and by life experiences, and cannot by any stretch be conclusively viewed as absolute truth. Through the desire for awareness and making the space in your life to welcome it, mindfulness offers equilibrium and a reset that can blossom into peace and move us from conceptual thought into direct experience.
For more information on Mindfulness Coaching and learning mindfulness techniques, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at (505) 249-4981.