Knowledge About Mindfulness Is Not Enough
Learning about mindfulness can provide a new framework for understanding our experiences, but this knowledge alone is unlikely to do much to improve our life. It would be like learning about sky-diving when you have no plans of ever getting in an airplane. Here are 3 mindfulness tools that will transform your life straightaway if you start to actually use them:
Focusing on Physical Sensation
One of the things people tend to do when they are mentally distressed is to pace up and down. We intuitively know we will get some relief if we move our attention away from our thoughts to something physical. This simple tool works because our attention can only focus on one thing at time, so by focusing on a physical sensation, we discover a sanctuary no matter how troubled our thinking becomes.
There were periods during those early years after I quit alcohol when I struggled to maintain a meditation practice or do any of the other things that I knew were helping me. The one thing I was always able to do was to focus on physical sensation, sometimes only for a few seconds at a time, but it was enough to prevent me from being overwhelmed by life.
If you can get into the habit of focusing on physical sensation, it will make a huge difference to your life. It will mean you too will have a refuge to turn to no matter how bad life gets. It only requires noticing whatever sensations are arising in your body right now (this is sometimes referred to as interoceptive awareness), or if you prefer, you can create your own sensations by performing some type of movement (e.g. walking, qigong, or yoga).
The benefits of focusing on physical sensation:
• By moving your attention away from thoughts, it allows your thinking to slow down. If you have a problem, you are far more likely to get a solution from a clear mind than a troubled mind
• Obsessive thinking can turn our brain into a ‘pressure cooker’ and eventually the pressure becomes so high we explode. Focusing on physical sensation releases some of the pressure
• By moving our attention to something physical, we are actually practicing meditation – it means we will begin to reap the benefits of improved concentration and mental clarity
• This act of ‘resting in the body’ introduces us to a new way of being. We start to notice how a deep sense of well-being is our default state when we are not caught up in thinking
Opening Up to Feelings and Emotions
Most of the bad stuff (including addictive behavior) we do is a result of trying to escape unpleasant feelings and emotions. We never seem to notice that the ‘cure’ is far worse than the ailment – we can go a lifetime without ever even considering what it is we are trying to get away from. It can come as a huge shock when we realize it was never the feelings that were the problem but our overreaction to them.
Self-compassion is the ability to just allow unpleasant feelings and emotions to arise and pass. When we do this, we begin to notice that these feelings are nowhere near as scary as we once imagined them to be - we have been running into the arms of monsters in order to escape a yapping puppy.
Loving What Is
Mindfulness means being aware of what is happening right now in an accepting way. It is an act of devotion that can completely transform our life. The word ‘love’ tends to suggest a gushy type of sentimentality, but the love we are talking about here involves complete acceptance of what is. If we can bring this type of devotion and full-commitment to our current experience, we will find happiness and peace right now (it doesn’t require you become a ‘spiritual person’, meditate for thousands of hours, or complete any type of self-improvement project).