As a DBT therapist the practice of mindfulness exercises is a regular part of my daily routine. The way most of my consumers experience mindfulness when they first start looks a little like this:
They picture themselves walking down the beach with a warm breeze enveloping them. “Oh I forgot to pull the meat out of the freezer. Crap! I am supposed to be mindful for 5 minutes, let me start over”.
They, again, are walking down the beach. “The beach seems sunny. I want sun but it’s supposed to rain today. When in the hell is spring finally going to be here? Shoot. I wasn’t mindful. Grr. Okay, I’m on that stupid beach again.”
The feel the warm breeze against their face, the sand on the bottom of their feet. “The floor needs vacuumed. Maybe I’ll do that when I’m done being… You’ve got to be kidding me. What’s wrong with my brain that I can’t be still for not even a single minute? I hate Mindfulness!”
The problem with this is a few things:
1- Visualization like that is only one method of mindfulness. Mindfulness exercises can be anything that gives one hundred percent of your focus to the actual moment you’re experiencing. When I paint, I’m focusing one hundred percent on the canvas and what I’m experiencing with the canvas. Every brush stroke, every detail, my mind is clearly focused. That is mindfulness. It can happen with any platform. It just has to be purposeful and focused.
2- Mindfulness takes practice. One doesn’t just wake up and stop the hustle of their brain just because they want to sit and clear their mind. Thoughts happen. Accept that and watch them exit as soon as they enter. It’s okay. Why are we judging our thoughts? As you see in the above examples we tend to start judging our thoughts and then that leads to judging ourselves. How is that beneficial to anyone?
3- Mindfulness isn’t as weird as people think. I’ve had a ton of people ask me if mindfulness was Buddhist practice or against Christianity. The answer is, all religions practice mindfulness. All mindfulness is, is focusing on the present moment. What am I doing right here and right now. Or, what can I focus on right here and right now. For example, if you happen to like imagery, you don’t have to be on a beach, but only picturing yourself on one. On the flip side, if you’re in Walmart buying bread, you can focus on the very floor tile you’re standing on, purposefully noticing each scuff mark and mouse dropping you can see.
I encourage everyone to practice mindfulness. Eat something with purpose. Pay attention to things like texture, smell, taste, the sound of it, and sight of it (this can lead to weight loss!). Practice when you tie your laces. Imagine trying to teach a two-year-old the hows and whys of tying a shoe. Practice while you’re stressed. How does my body feel, where is my tension? Etc.
Mindfulness is amazing because you actually get to experience life instead of just exist in it.