Mindfulness has become a popular word these days and everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means.
Some people think it means to get rid of your thoughts, to have an empty mind, to feel nothing, or to be peaceful at all times.
However, to me, mindfulness is not about any of those.
To explain my definition, I will break mindfulness down to four parts.
An easy way to remember these four parts is the acronym SOAP.
1. Separation from Thoughts
How easily do we get tangled up and caught in our thoughts? One thought leads to the next, leads to the next. Before long we are in a full-on dramatic story about something in our head that seems real. Some thoughts, especially negative, judgmental, or painful thoughts can be particularly hard to separate from.
With mindfulness, we take a step back and see thoughts as just thoughts. If you notice your mind coming up with stories, or problem solving to no end, you can say, “Thank you mind for that thought.” If you watch your thoughts for long enough, it becomes fairly obvious that most thoughts have little truth to them and are often not very helpful.
2. Observing Yourself
So often we can create an identity of ourselves from our thoughts, emotions, or body. We think that our anger, depression, or anxiety IS who we are. We can be convinced that the thought “I am no good” is just what we are. Or that our body defines us as a person.
With mindfulness, we can gain some perspective on all of this. We step into a space of just observing ourselves. We can just sit and watch our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations play out, without identifying with any of it. Think of just watching waves come and go in the ocean.
3. Acceptance of Emotions.
Do you ever wonder why you continue to struggle with a particular emotion? Often, it’s because by fighting with it, you are giving it more energy. As Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists.”
Acceptance means to give up this struggle and allow your emotions to be as they are. It means allowing them to play out within you as they do naturally. I see acceptance as a courageous act of self-love. You are telling your emotions: “I see you and accept you just the way you are.”
4. Present Moment.
Often our mind wanders into the past or into the future and has a difficult time staying present. That is just what minds do. They anticipate the future, and can obsess over the past to make sure we learned how to avoid the pain of the past.
Mindfulness means to bring our attention back to the here and now. An easy way to do this is focus on our 5 senses. What do you hear? See? Taste? Touch? Smell? Our 5 senses bring us back into the present moment. Focusing on your breathing does this as well. Our body can be a good anchor for coming back to the present moment.
Mindfulness may seem like a complex idea, but the practice is rather simple because it is something we all have access to and something we all do at moments in our life.
Some athletes call it being “in the zone;” any moment where you are present, accepting, open, and not identified with your thoughts is a very mindful moment.
Here’s a quick example to bring it all together: A car cuts you off in traffic and anger shows up for you. You think “that guy is a jerk.”
An automatic reaction might be to have anger take over your body and mind, and you slam on the horn and scream at the guy. Alternatively, you could feel the anger coming on and start convincing yourself that you shouldn’t be angry because only irrational people are angry and being angry is stupid.
With mindfulness it might look like: Noticing the feelings of anger in your body, allowing them to arise, seeing your angry thoughts as just thoughts, letting them come and go, just watching this play out within you, and choosing to come back to the present moment of your breathing.
Remember, mindfulness is a practice and the more you practice, the more mindful you become.
To practice, try different activities and see what resonates. Going for a walk, being in nature, exercising, sitting in meditation, talking with a friend, eating something you love, yoga. These are some ideas to get you started. Choose a mindfulness practice that works for you.
Hopefully this post has been useful and helps you understand a bit more about how I help people as a therapist. I also offer mindfulness workshops and groups.
Wishing you a mindful day,
Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.