Guest blogger Deborah Hirsch contributed the following post reflecting on mindfulness.
Quick. Close your eyes. Breathe in through your chest. Let thoughts come in and out of your mind. Don’t engage with them. Exhale.
You may think you just started a meditation. But what you were practicing is mindfulness.
The easiest way to think of mindfulness is being in the moment. Sounds simple but it’s actually very hard to do. But very rewarding, too. Researchers are now finding that “mindfulness” is helping doctors avoid burnout, patients deal better with pain and overall, help people to live happier, healthier lives. Med students at some universities are even being mandated to take a course on the subject.
I know it’s made my life better. As a cancer survivor, it’s something I learned when going through treatment. Diagnosed 10 years ago and then two years later with breast cancer, I tried all the usual stuff. Positive thinking. Research. Finding the best doctor.
But the one thing I did that helped more than anything was learning to stay in the moment. With cancer, you don’t want to think too far ahead. And though I was deemed cancer-free at the end of radiation and surgery, it’s never far from your mind that it can come back. Living in the moment relieves all of that. You’re here right now, breathing and alive, and that’s all that matters.
Mindfulness is a psychological state of awareness, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), and it’s been around for over 2,000 years. It’s recently resurged in popularity and is now even considered useful in mainstream psychotherapy.
The idea is to train your awareness to experience life moment by moment, not rushing ahead – as I do – to the next thing on your to-do list. When I go on my daily runs, I’ll tell myself I’m going to really see the changing color of the trees, feel the soft mild breezes, hear the crackling of the leaves under my feet. But damned if I don’t immediately jump into my latest deadline and picking my son up from school, and oh dear, what am I going to make for dinner?
I’ve broken my wrist, my nose three times and gotten eight stitches above my eye, all because I’m not mindful when I jog.
So what really is the benefit of mindfulness? It helps shift your thoughts away from your usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment and a larger perspective on life, according to helpguide.org.
But on an even deeper level, it reduces stress and anxiety.
Researchers theorize that mindfulness decreases our ability to compulsively focus on the symptoms of distress in our lives and helps us disengage from these thoughts, the APA reports. Best of all, it can help us appreciate what’s going on around us, not just what’s in our head. And if your head is anything like mine, you’d probably like to quiet it down a little.
The voice in my head tells me I’m not working hard enough or spending enough time with my son or losing enough weight. It’s this voice that mindfulness can still.
But bigger than that is the joy that it can bring to your life when you’re really living it. Lately I’ve been looking through baby pictures of my teenage son and what I remember from those years is, am I a bad mother for not letting him cry through the night, why isn’t he walking yet, am I stimulating his mind enough. I so wish it was more smelling his head and feeling that warm solid lump of flesh against me, and who cares if he’s not sleeping through the night because I keep picking him up.
Mindfulness helps us stay right in the moment, that moment.
What’s that saying? The past is history, the future, a mystery. That’s why it’s called the present. It’s a gift.
Deborah DiSesa Hirsch