Mindfulness has become a mainstream intention over the last couple of years and is used in all kinds of general adaptations that bring people a full life. It is also used in Mental Health. What is mindfulness? In my own words, mindfulness is being present in the moment, observing our thoughts, feelings and actions without judgement and accepting what is happening without changing anything. As you can imagine, if you have read my last two posts on “Accepting your Feelings” and “Changing your Feelings”, mindfulness plays right between the two. In other words, mindfulness is needed in order to both accept and change emotions. You might be wondering how mindfulness works if it is not to change anything. The key is that when we are being mindful, although, we are not trying to change anything, we are accepting and acknowledging the things going on around us without judgement. The strangest thing is that through doing this our thoughts, feelings and behaviours just naturally change. We arrive at a space where we are no longer absorbed by distressing thoughts and in turn our emotions change. Practicing mindfulness over and over–especially when we are doing well–helps us naturally drift into this space when we are distressed.
Accepting your feelings without judgement allows you take a step back and just be in the moment. Observing the emotion without actually being connected to it–as if it is a movie on a screen. Once in this special space, we can begin to be curious about its presence. What is it doing here? Why has it come? Is there a reason for its existence? All the while being non-judgmental. This feeling is okay; I just wonder why it’s here? Curiosity is very different to judgement. We are not labeling the emotion as good or bad; we are simply questioning its existence. I will share an example from a recent experience of mine involving anxiety, which is really the fear that something bad is going to happen. I was just walking my dog and all of a sudden, I was shaking inside and out; my heart was racing and my breathes were shortened or held. I couldn’t stop walking without drawing attention to myself–as there were other people around–so I took a deep breath (my go to for grounding myself) and began to watch the anxiety as it seemed to overtake my body. I felt my heart palpitations and just focused on that without judging whether they were right or wrong, just recognizing they were there. I thought to myself, this emotion is okay. I’m allowed to have this feeling. The anxiety continued and I realized I was beginning to judge it as being unuseful in this situation so I went back to my breath again, stepped back and began to allow myself to feel the shakiness and the fear–non-judgmentally. I kept walking, the feeling was still with me and I started to look at it more curiously. Why am I feeling afraid? Is there a reason? Was I thinking of something else? And I’d come back to my breath again. Refocusing. Gradually, the anxiety began to fade a bit–not a lot, but enough to give me some reprieve. All this time, I am still walking and still aware of how the muscles in my legs have tightened and I feel as if I’m walking stiffly; I tell myself, that it’s okay. This is how fear manifests itself. As you can see, it is not an easy task and I have been practicing for quite some time and it takes time–a lot of practice and a lot of time, but it can be done. The anxiety receded somewhat and by accepting its existence as a part of my life, I was able to finish my walk without the escalation to panic as sometimes happens. Breathing is important during this time–being aware of your breath. In this case, the feeling did not change much but at least it didn’t progress further. Anxiety and Panic can be fierce and intense. They can cause us immense distress. Being able to see them for what they are–just feelings of fear–removes some of the power they have over us. This is true for any feeling. They are just feelings; sometimes not even realistic ones–but that’s a judgment!