How to Practice Mindfulness: When you feel overwhelmed by life’s frustrations, practicing mindfulness can help.
Somedays I feel like a fireman, running around putting out Life’s Little Fires, or as I like to call them L.L.F.s. These aren’t catastrophes, but rather the annoyances that pop up and burn you on the backside like a like a hot coal from a campfire. L.L.F.s make life difficult. As a client of mine recently said, “I’d like to make it through just one day with things going right!” I could relate. In fact, just today I saw my morning about to go up in smoke.
I had an early Skype session scheduled with my writing coach, but the gods-of-the-internet just weren’t going to have it. He could hear me, but I couldn’t hear him. I could see him, but he couldn’t see me. We were disconnected, then reconnected and disconnected again. We spent a good portion of our session just trying to get started. After several attempts to reboot my system, then switching to a different computer, resetting my internet protocol and sacrificing a computer mouse as a burnt offering, we appeased the gods and eventually connected.
When I find myself in these frustrating situations, my first response is to throw my hands up in exasperation and yell expletives to the sky. However, of late, I’ve been practicing “Mindfulness,” and found it useful for squelching the little fires of life. Mindfulness is a popular word in the mental health field that originally comes from the practice of Buddhist meditation. It’s the psychological process of becoming acutely aware in a nonjudgmental way of the present moment while entering into the harmony of the body, the mind, and the spirit. Or in less “woo-woo terms,” mindfulness is simply noticing what’s going on rather than reacting to it.
I’m the first to admit that practicing mindfulness is way easier when things are going well. After all, when things are going my way being in the moment is a piece of cake. But, I’m also learning that being mindful in the moments of complications and difficulties to be truly beneficial. To quote Thich Nhat Hanh, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” Somewhere in the midst of the annoyances of L.L.F.s resides joy and happiness. I just have to find it within my body, mind, and spirit. Here’s how I break that down:
Body: The brain is the physical organ that orchestrates our bodily functions. When I’m frustrated my brain perceives danger and engages the fight or flight response. When this happens adrenaline is released, my heart pumps faster, my breathing gets shallow, and my body becomes prepared to run or fight. An unfortunate byproduct of this defense system is to decrease the blood flow to the part of the brain responsible for problem-solving and rational thought. When I’m frustrated I’m not thinking clearly. By noticing what’s going on in my brain I can change what’s going on in the rest of my body. Mindfulness reminds me to focus on my breath, slowing down the flood of adrenalin and re-engaging my brain’s ability to attend to the goodness all around me. As I was trying to get Skype working this morning I noticed my breathing, slowed it down and became aware of the sensations in my body. It wasn’t easy, but it did help me to let go of my anxiety and move forward with the call, which ended up being an excellent session
Mind: The mind is the transparent internal system of our emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. To be mindful of my mind is to notice and become aware of that system in the present moment. Mindfulness shifts my thinking towards observing what’s going on in this internal system. My thoughts move away from the problem and I just experience the moment. An odd thing happened when I did this today; I was able to release the distress and recognize that it was simply an opportunity to expand my spiritual practice.
Spirit: The spirit is the part of the self that connects to that which is larger than me, the source of all things. In the midst of the L.L.F.s, I thought of a quote by Tony Robins who said, “The universe isn’t doing this to you, it’s doing this for you!” As I contemplated this for a moment, I reminded myself that virtues are the spiritual tools that allow me to find the connection. The opportunity to expand my patience was the gift of the day. As the wise King Solomon said, “The end of the matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” As I practiced patience and listened to my spirit, and I noticed a sense of peace and purpose that lead to writing this post… And that’s kind of cool.
Later in the day, I drove past a sign on the outside of an athletic club. It read, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Since to be alive is to be in a constant state of learning, growing and changing, is it any wonder why we’re so often challenged? I love how Pema Chodron puts it: “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teachers,” or in this case, the L.L.F.s. Even though today was challenging, by being mindful to the present moments, these complications ended up being gifts from the gods of fire. By the way; does anyone know a good place to scatter the ashes of a burnt computer mouse?