At the core of each person is a space that knows pure peace. But as we grow, we start to be drawn away from this deep sense of self as a result of social conditioning, trauma, time, and a host of other personal factors. It becomes easy for us to feel detached and to start making choices based on external factors as opposed to being true to ourselves.
Sometimes we need help to peel back these layers and uncover our inner selves, the “You” that lives inside (even if it’s been neglected for a while) and promote a sense of stillness and connection. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing this is Mindfulness Meditation.
By cultivating mindfulness, we can learn to identify the negative thoughts that keep us trapped in feelings of self-doubt and shame, and learn instead to embrace the peacefulness that stems from living in the present moment.
As I have explained to my little yogis in children’s classes. We come into this world like a big bright shinning diamond, Whole, Radiant and Pure. We have lots of love and joy and the potential to be or create anything. Then through the traumas of life this diamond can start to get covered with dust, a layer of limiting patterns. Maybe we failed a test, or a family member or friend made fun of us or said nasty words, maybe a time we was shy or made a bad mistake. Until sometimes as adults we forget there was a beautiful diamond in there.
One of the easiest ways to be disconnected from our core selves is through habitual negative thinking. It can be easy to feel like negative or worrisome thoughts are capable of “kidnapping” our minds and taking us out of the present moment, especially when we’re stressed or anxious. These unpleasant thoughts are often based on automatic thought processes that have been playing over and over in our heads, unchallenged, for years.
Mindfulness can be defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” In other words, mindfulness allows us to become more aware of our thoughts and what is going on within our bodies without labeling or judging them. When we are able to be still, and be anchored in the now, we notice our thoughts more clearly. And when we become aware of our thoughts, we’re able to begin challenging them.
It’s easier to challenge negative thoughts when the process is broken down into steps. The next time you observe yourself stuck in a negative thought pattern, try practicing these four steps.
Recognize that you are having a negative thought or pattern of negative thoughts.
Say “Stop!” In your head (or out loud if it feels socially appropriate).
Challenge the thought by probing it with questions. Ask yourself, “What evidence do I have to support this thought?” Odds are, you’ll notice that the evidence isn’t strong.
Ask yourself will this matter next week, next month, next year?
Turn this thought into a positive, maybe your thinking “I cannot express myself”, turn that negative into “I express myself with ease”.
When we release negative thought patterns and become mindful of the present, we allow ourselves to fully experience all the joy that is available to us in a given moment.
Mindfulness may feel great, but that doesn’t mean it feels easy to achieve. To help achieve this,
Imagine how young children and animals act in the world. They’re so connected to whatever’s going on in the present (You don’t see a dog worrying about the look he got from the neighbor’s dog last Thursday.). Set an intention to bring a gentle curiosity to life, as animals and children do. When we approach our thoughts in this way, we don’t feel a need to attach to them or push them away. Instead, we can explore them, with childlike wonder, and let them be nothing more than what they are thoughts.
Practice yoga. Yoga is a meditation of the body. In yoga, our bodies help to “anchor” us in the present, as our awareness is focused on the changes happening within our bodies. A particularly useful tool for those struggling with anxiety or depression is to hold a challenging pose and to bring attention to the discomfort embrace it, and breathe through it. When we experience a depressive or anxious state, we feel that it will never end, that the discomfort will not lift. Challenging poses teach us to accept the challenge and to trust that, just like anything else, it will pass, and the discomfort will subside.
Eat mindfully. When was the last time you sat down for a meal and really enjoyed the flavor, texture, smell, and presentation of your food? So often, we eat on the run or in front of a screen. In contrast, eating mindfully means paying attention to our five senses in conjunction with slowing down. Think about where your food came from who made it? What processes occurred to bring the food to the plate in front of you? Look, smell, explore, feel, take a small bite, chew, taste, savor, and swallow. Challenge yourself to eat a meal mindfully (and maybe in silence) at least a few times a week.
Take a mindful shower. The activities that we perform on a daily basis, such as showering, often become the most mindless, because we learn to cruise through them on automatic pilot. But these activities serve as wonderful opportunities to practice mindfulness. The next time you’re in the shower, focus on the water on your skin. What is the temperature? How is the pressure? Use your sense of smell to enjoy the scent of your shampoo or body wash. Really bring yourself into the moment and actually think about what you are doing. Notice how this experience differs from your usual routine.
Practice mindful listening. What does it mean to listen mindfully? It means to listen, just listen, without judgment and without preparing or thinking about your response or opinion. Instead, just listen and allow the person space to express their ideas and feelings. Don’t interrupt, add your opinion, or agree or disagree. Decide to neither attach to nor reject whatever the other person is expressing. Simply let the expression be what it is. The simple practice of mindful listening can enhance relationships by promoting mutual respect and creating a deeper understanding of the messages being communicated.
At the end of our Yoga or Mindfulness Meditation , I will often ask “how do you feel?” Often you say things like, “more relaxed” or “less anxious.” What I believe to be happening is that for a moment in time you are able to get out of your mind, enter your body, and (even if for a brief period of time) experience peace. With some training, intention, and commitment, every one of us can find the peace available to us in the present moment.
Look for something positive in each day, even if some days you have to look a little harder.