“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. ” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
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This past week, I listened to the podcast The Biggest Obstacle To Mindful Living from the Mindfulness Summit by Melli O’Brien (AKA Mrs. Mindfulness). She spoke about constant craving and endless wandering, and most profoundly, that we always look outwardly and in the future for happiness. Her message and truth was that what we are looking for is inside and in the present. Melli spoke to me loudly. I have seen it in my own life and in the life of many others around me. Not only is constant happiness not attainable, relying on the new house, new job, accolades, etc. is not the answer to this happiness we seek.
We spend a lot of time searching for something, sometimes we know what that something is and sometimes we don’t. Either way can lead to an empty feeling if we don’t spend the time to live in the moments and appreciate them for what they are. In their book Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Williams and Penman talk about our search to solve the problems of unhappiness, anxiety and stress. They accurately state these aren’t solvable problems but rather emotions that are felt. In turn, when we acknowledge their existence and do not focus our energy on explaining or fixing how we feel, they tend to vanish more quickly.
I think about this in my own life and work. On days that my skin doesn’t seem to fit right, I used to be incensed when it was pointed out to me, usually by my husband. I now find that being able to say it out loud, “I feel irritable/edgy/anxious/unhappy (take your pick) and I don’t know why”, it does dissipate more quickly. Labeling the emotions with something external to me, such as a difficult patient or a gloomy day, the emotions hung around longer.
Similarly, in medical practice, it is not uncommon for a patient to say they are ‘depressed’ or have ‘anxiety’. Specific diagnostic criteria exist to diagnose a psychiatric illness, but more often than not, external factors (partner, kids, work, finances, etc.) are causing persistent negative feelings because the stimulus and perspective of the person don’t change.
Focusing on the ‘Being mode’
Williams and Penman further explain the concept of externalizing our emotions by the ‘Doing mode’ – which I have discussed in a previous post. They say that when you are unhappy, you focus on where you want to be which is ‘happy’. Your mind tries to figure out how to get where it wants to be, otherwise known as ‘Doing mode’, termed that because it likes to solve problems. What happens is that focusing on the gap ends up making us feel worse. We can then get caught up in rumination, which builds on more rumination and negative self-talk.
The alternative they suggest is the ‘Being mode’ – “If the Doing mode is a trap, the Being mode is freedom”. When we live in the present and relate to the world in this new way, we are no longer dependent on external circumstance for our emotions. When we practice mindful living through meditation, we learn to ‘see’ our thoughts as they occur as opposed to re-living the past or pre-living the future.
Practice living mindfully
Mindfulness is a recurrent theme everywhere and with good reason. However, it isn’t easy and takes practice – I am continuing to practice and re-learn myself. Melli O’Brien suggests a simple exercise to get started – when you start to have negative thoughts, know they are your thoughts and let them go with a deep conscious breath and return to the present moment.
Meditation is a simple and effective way to practice mindfulness and awareness of our thoughts. You may already be mediating, but if not and you want to, here are a couple of places to get started:
1) Online guided programs – a great free one is through Mindfulness Based Achievement
Once you feel comfortable with the concept, you can find some music that you enjoy based on sound and length for self-guided meditation – a few I recommend include The Moon Inside by Jami Sieber, Chakra Meditation for Balancing Wellness by Zen Music Garden and Buddhist Meditation by Meditation Guru.
In an attempt to sum up what this discussion is all about, I would like to share this poem If I Had My Life To Live Over Again by 85 year old Nadine Stair.
If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.
Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.