Mindfulness: The Treasure and the Tool-Belt
Mindfulness is a concept that has built deep roots within my way of living. My learning and understanding of this concept has developed from my practice and playfulness, through experiences and conversations, and trial and error. While we are complex beings in search of simplicity, mindfulness is the gateway to the calm and steady balance of mind and body that we all crave to settle into. To me, mindfulness is the key to creating and conserving optimal fuel for healthy living.
In the book Mind, by Daniel Siegal, MD, he explores the territory of the mind versus the brain, and how well-being may be the result of the “...linkage of differentiated parts that maximize the complexity of the system” (p.78). What does this mean? Through a process of self-organization, accessed through Mindfulness, we create links and integration of the many important facets of our existence, to piece together our unique representation of reality, and well-being is a result of the quality of those linkages.
While we may know intuitively that meditation, mindful living, and methodical problem-solving is the way to our mind-body connection and optimal health, it continues to be a difficult target and overwhelming habit to foster. Why? What is it about human nature that we can “know” what we need to do, yet struggle immensely in actually doing it?
We are creatures of habit. We have a certain amount of energy to be used each day, and there are ways we cyclically drain our energy, as well as ways we can create and conserve energy. Meditation and mindful living requires focus, action (and non-action), and ultimately, energy. If you are tired, stressed, distracted, or in a negative (catabolic) mindset, building new habits feels like a stubborn 6-ton Elephant being pushed and dragged on a leash. In fact, when we are low-energy, we revert back to all old patterns and habits simply as a way to save energy. We can spin our wheels and judge our “lack of discipline”, which burns a lot of energy without making any progress forward.
Meditation is simple, and it does not require a still, calm, quiet mind. The result eventually will be a stiller, calmer, quieter mind, but the real tool of meditation is noticing and not engaging in the conversation in your mind. It is the development of our ability to witness and observe without judgement and storytelling. It is the process of limiting distractions, sitting (or walking or lying down), connecting with breath, and allowing your breath to be the most interesting thing happening inside of you. From this calm position, we connect with our body and witness our mind. In other words, we feel grounded. To be ‘grounded’ is to feel an increasingly unwavering connection to the moment and your current body state, as it is. When grounded, there is a state of flow, trust, and intuitive knowing/belief that you can let go of wherever your mind is taking you, and come back to this peaceful, anabolic (positive, creative, constructive), energy and space that is always waiting for you to tap into. When we are grounded, we catch our thoughts before they become rabbit roles, we reflect and learn with grace, and we are present and capable of making the most of each juicy and opportune moment.
The more we do this, the easier it is to tap into this ideal state throughout your day. From this place, we notice how often our mind-chatter goes off on tangents that are not serving who we are and where we are headed. Meditation is a practice that builds a pathway to presence and contentment, which is accessible whenever you need it, want it, or choose it.
We know why meditation is healthy. We know why mindful living is ideal. Now, I propose, when we stop wasting energy on things that do not serve our direction, we can more easily step in, and tune in, to our ideal state.
Before we dive into the five energy wasters to eliminate from your existence, let’s talk energy. We are relational and energetic beings. The way you show up (i.e. mindset, attitude, adaptability, receptivity, connected to self and other, etc.) has a direct impact on how others will show up for you and what you perceive and believe as a result. The treasure of mindful living is the realization that we create and project a lot of assumed meaning into the constant Story we dictate as we go through life. When we have energy and understanding in mindfulness, we have the ability to see our initial reactions as deep-rooted programming while our conscious response (after the reaction) is where we get to choose and create the flow of life we live in.
The mindset we have going into a situation has a direct correlation to the energy we embody, which is a large proportion of how we communicate with our surroundings. How we show up in every interaction, with ourselves and with others, creates a ripple effect. We attract more of whatever we put out into the world, and whatever you focus on, you create more of (internally and externally).
Our thoughts, (how we talk to ourselves and what we focus on), are the ultimate tools in our mindfulness toolbelt. It’s important to consider that certain emotional reactions (we all have) are programmed into you; some biologically and some environmentally learned. We tend to give our compulsive and fear-based initial thoughts much more attention and credit than they warrant.
With that in mind, here are five thought cycles that get more air-time than necessary, and are the keys to conserving your precious energy and creating space and direction for growth and mindful living.
We are all programmed to constantly assess our status or position of relevance in our immediate perception of reality. This leads to a common sensation that “I am the center of the Universe,” which leads to time and energy wasted as we assess, put others down, one-up others, or devise plans to get the one-up position. It serves us well, from an evolutionary perspective, to desire a position of importance. This elevates our chances of survival, and our subconscious is hardwired with a survival mechanism, over-riding our conscious and pragmatic understanding that “I am not the center of the Universe.”
There are many other more efficient and grounding ways to have a positive impact on the world around us, creating the sense of importance we seek. We have a dualistic, and often contradictory, belief in what is needed for well-being and survival. When we compare and judge ourselves and others in negative and one-upmanship energy, it is the animalistic and deepest programmed reaction in our relational systems. Knowing that this is simply a programmed, good-intentioned yet inefficient and old-school way of operating, this is where you have your choice-point. Will you continue sending energy down that pathway towards comparison and judgment, or will you choose a new pathway towards mind-body connection and healing ourselves and others through leading by example in love and compassion? That is the pathway mindful living creates; an open heart, a forgiving and passionate energy, and a growth oriented and passionate mindset.
We naturally judge and compare, but you do get to choose whether or not you send more energy down that pathway and engage with the inner (and outer) dialogue it creates. Be responsible. Be capable. Focus on you and how your creation of more high-vibration conversations heals our gossipy and status-hungry nature.
Yes, we make mistakes. Even when we know better, we make big mistakes. Regret in itself is a waste of time and energy. It is a state of mind that shackles you to your mistakes, reliving it and re-examining a hypothetical existence where that mistake no longer plagues you. It is important to address where you made a mistake. It is vital to stand tall and admit wrong-doing. It is healing to learn and hop back into the rhythm and flow of life where new opportunities and connections are waiting to be discovered. If you are stewing in or making decisions from the energy of regret, you are simply sending more energy down that pathway that is leading to where you do not want to go. Reflect, learn, and commit to doing better next time. This is the way of the efficient, grounded, growth-minded, and compassionate individual. Relationships are reborn and nourished each day. Why bring old stagnant energy of regret into the new and fresh opportunities in front of you? By allowing yourself to stew in regret, you are simply creating a stronger neural pathway towards regret, which will flare up as a seductive pathway every time you do anything imperfectly.
When you are grounded in purpose, and choose to learn and grow from absolutely everything you do in life, regret loses its luster quickly. There’s no need for regret when you view each moment as practice for the next moment. Let go of regret.
We can waste a lot of energy thinking about what to eat, what we should or should not eat, and what we did eat that we think we shouldn’t have. We spend time and money restricting ourselves and then waste energy indulging and feeling shame or judgement that we lacked the discipline to do what we said we would do. Your ideal “diet” is a lifestyle and it is sustainable, balanced, and will adjust day to day based on your energy output and your mind and body's needs for that day. It is not just about calories in and calories out, but rather the quality of the fuel you ingest and the quality of your thoughts and presence as you ingest.
Mindful Eating (or Soulful Eating as Eating Psychology expert Marc David refers to it) is an ideal way to approach food. It is about experiencing and being present with the food you eat. It is the realization that no food is inherently good or bad, but rather your mindset and portion matters more than anything. It reminds us to slow down and pay attention to each bite, each chew, the smells, the texture, and the taste. When we approach our food with a desire for nourishment and gratitude for its creation and presentation, you are more likely to stop when full and move on to something engaging and nourishing away from the table afterwards. Change the way you perceive your food and look for a sustainable lifestyle instead of a quick-fix.
4. Background Noise
We are addicted to noise and distraction. We seek stimulation and constant entertainment in an attempt to avoid the quiet or disengage from mind-chatter. Your mind-chatter is not the enemy, it just needs more positive ideas and nourishing energy to fuel a direction towards high-vibration. When we leave the tv on for background noise, have the radio playing constantly, or keep ourselves busy at all costs, it is as if we have attached a tap to our energy system and left it open to drain all day long. The classic mindful saying, “Don’t just do something, sit there” is one of my favorite reminders when I am feeling the buzz of busy-work. I choose to shut off all distractions I can and take a few moments in silence. Just breath. Just feeling and witnessing my inner-state and the sensations in my physical body.
Meditation can be many things and can look many different ways. The key is to recognize meditation as your system’s favorite and most delicious and energizing fuel. A few moments to yourself in the elevator? Rather than pulling your phone out of your pocket, how about you breathe five deep belly breaths? Rather than having the tv playing in the background while you are home puttering around, how about silence, the sound of your breath and the awareness in your thoughts to fuel yourself for your next interaction. Rather than the radio or MTV playing while making dinner, why not listen to soulful sounds and vibrations of drums, instruments, or mantras that resonate deep within your mind and body. Put pen to paper, mindfully draw out your reminders for the day. Move and stretch your body to the rhythm and music of your breath. Rather than looking up articles for inspiration, why not challenge yourself to write one? We have a habit of looking outward for what we need, to fill a void or to distract from that buzz telling us to “do something.” Be still. Let your breath fuel your mind and body. Find some softness in your effort.
We are our worst critic. Brene Brown says, “shame...is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.” Just imagine how much energy you would have if it was not wasted and held hostage by your own negative self-talk. We are not setting ourselves up for greatness when we bully, berate, and belittle ourselves. Shame tells us we are not good enough and never will be. It is a habit and it is strengthened each time we allow our attention to go down that rabbit-hole.
You have a choice. When you feel the seduction of shame entering your mind, put your hand on your heart and thank yourself for having such high expectations and standards, and gently remind yourself that progress and power is waiting on the other side of this compulsion. Sometimes we need to sit and get stuck in certain mindsets and emotions to learn from experience that that is not where you want to continue sending your energy. Live, learn, and let that shit go.
Stop worrying about what others might be thinking about you. You can’t control others thoughts. It is best to focus on you, and practice your own ability to moderate, guide, encourage, inspire, and balance yourself, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The more you step into your high-vibration state, the more you will attract others who do the same. These are the people who will not encourage or continue the pattern of bullying, berating, or belittling. They are the people who will support your new habits and lead by example in this high-vibration mindful way of living. There will always be people who try to take you down and who quickly judge what you are capable of, but you have a choice in who you listen to and who you give your power to.
Now that you have freed up some space, time, and energy. What will you invest in instead? Your thoughts create an Empire that is your experience of life. What kind of Empire will you consciously choose to construct?
Here are other ways to get the boost of Happy Chemicals we crave in our addiction to comparing, our striving for perfection, and our limiting belief that we must regret and shame ourselves to learn:
- Align your life to be grounded in your Core Values. Be proud of who you are and how you compose yourself. Think and act in alignment with your unique beat of the drum.
- Eat well, sweat daily. And connect with yourself through deep belly breaths and a content grin
- Do what you say you’ll do, and if you can’t, say what you will do instead and do that.
- Be in conversation with people about ideas, books, goals, struggles and learnings, and improvise with what the moment presents. Treat everything as an offer and you have choice.
- Meditate to Ground yourself.
Try this Meditation:
With your hands gently on your knees, sit up tall and feel the connection between your sit bones and the floor. Feel the root of your spine pointing down and inviting energy from the earth up through your spine and out the top of your head. Visualize your breath moving with this energy, up and down.
The Root Chakra is at the base of the spine. It is our root to the earth beneath us and the deep connection to all things. Focus on the qualities of your root chakra and allow yourself to be held and supported by the same space and energy that is holding and supporting our planet.
As you breathe, repeat the following phrase three times...
"I am Grounded. I am Secure. I am Safe. I embody Passion and am full of Possibilities. I surround myself with people who are open, driven, and compassionate. I am Content and trust that good things come when I believe in myself."
Today is a new day, what will you do differently to begin paving new pathways in that beautiful brain of yours?