Updated: May 24
Mindfulness: Probably a friend. It's got your back for stress management, and there's data on its usefulness in depression and chronic pain, for example. Just what is mindfulness, exactly?
Jon Kabat-Zinn: ' Mindfulness means moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. It is cultivated by refining our capacity to pay attention, intentionally, in the present moment, and then sustaining that attention over time as best we can. In the process, we become more in touch with our life as it is unfolding.'
Let's break that down a bit. Paying attention intentionally, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, and sustaining that attention as we get better at focusing. Which has payoffs! Like enjoying a serene or sublime moment; coming to grips with awful ones; and learning to appreciate everything in between for exactly what it is (not the story we tell ourselves about those moments).
Mindfulness practice has taught me a few very important things. Emotions, no matter how intense, are temporary; observing them also gives me a little space from them in which to decide how to respond. Thoughts are simply a product of my mind (which itself is a product of my particular past, present and projected future); they are not necessarily true! Reality lies in our moment-by-moment experiences, when we suspend the stories we create about them, and live them immersively. I tell you, this was quite a relief to me (I tell alot of stories!).
I was very lucky that mindfulness practice was a mandatory, daily part of my health coach training. I had tried meditation a few times previously on my own, but never kept up the practice beyond a couple of weeks. Where and how can you start practicing? And let's remember that it is a practice, not a perfect-out-of-the-gate experience like you are expecting it to be.
Start small (eg. one minute of observing your breathing), and slowly grow into it. You could try tracking your sessions in a journal or with a habit-tracking app such as HabitShare. How did you feel during your session? What did you notice? Did anything unexpected come up? Sometimes strong emotions may surface during mindfulness meditation- that's ok! Breathe, name the emotion(s), and notice what you feel in your body- those steps will give you a bit of space, and allow the emotional 'wave' to dissipate naturally.
You can try different guided meditations to give you a path to follow, and offer an anchor (a focus) for meditation. Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer all offer free sessions and have different features like community, motivational tracking, or music. If you're ready for a more in depth experience specifically designed for depression, the excellent book (and workbook) The Mindful Way Through Depression by J. Mark G. Williams, John D. Teasdale, Zindel V. Segal PhD, and Jon Kabat-Zinn offers an 8 week program to enhance your mindfulness practice, and let go of some of the thought patterns holding you down. Support will help you in building your new habit- perhaps meditating with a significant other or a friend, joining a meditation group, or just checking in with an accountability buddy. Celebration of your efforts, progress and consistency will also help build your habit- give yourself a high five, take a long hot shower or bath (also a great mindfulness exercise!), go for a mindful walk or slowly enjoy some dark chocolate (!) to let yourself know you're doing a good job.
If you already have a mindfulness practice, what would take it to the next level? Practicing mindful moments during mundane tasks during the day? Giving yourself a bit of space to observe and attend to your own reactions during a patient or client encounter? Or perhaps experimenting with 'mini mindfulness breaks' of a minute or two frequently through the day to reconnect and recharge.