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Challenge: Life Changes

Tips On Becoming Present & Practicing Mindfulness

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I had a patient in her last year of high school come to me this week in tears and complain that her father criticized her about not getting a high enough score on her SAT’s. She wasn’t focused on thinking that she disappointed him but rather that he finally noticed her and it was only to express disappointment. She expressed deep sadness about his relentless distraction when he interacted with her. She questioned what came first and who he really cared about, his phone, computer, or lastly and sadly her.

I personally find myself struggling with this as well. There’s so much temptation, so much titillation and so much on the agenda to do. It feels endless and laborious. I rationalize that if I get “it” done at the moment, then afterwards I will have more time for “them” and that I also “need” time for myself and am “deserving” of it. I further rationalize that I am invested for the “betterment” of my family because being productive is also helpful to “them.”

In addition, that a “natural” byproduct of being a working mother is being distracted because of my conscientiousness, attention to detail, and strive for success. Last, that being a working mother is “naturally” accepting feelings of guilt over being distracted and that there’s not much I can do about it. However convoluted and rationale at the same time the thoughts are, I recognize it keeps me from being connected in the way I truly want to be.

I continue to work on improving this. I see fundamental changes when I commit to my mindfulness practice. On a weekly basis I evaluate where I’m at on my barometer and make shifts to get better focused. The value of family and connectedness draws me to make this a priority. I’ll never give up trying. I’m glad to not be okay with this because I’m reassured that I’ll continue to work on this.

The other day I found myself fed up with my wandering mind and missed my little girl. I whisked her off to Starbucks and had a real tea party, kettle and all. The chai tea latte was so inviting. Pinkies up and conversing over what we would do if we were celebrating in a castle with real kings and queens. My heart was full. Looking into the depth of her eyes and sensing her deep generous love for me. I recall feeling grateful and a feeling of true serenity. I felt sad that these moments weren’t more plentiful and appreciative that I was there with her in the moment.

People often ask what the hype is with “mindfulness” and the pursuit of being present and in the moment. Current research verifies the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. It was proven to help with cognition, anxiety/stress, high blood pressure, chronic pain, sleep, compassion, self-acceptance, and much more.

The way it made sense and was explained to me at a workshop I did with Pema Chodron a few weeks ago was creating space “between the craving and grasping.” Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” It has truly improved my life, both at the personal and professional levels.

There are strategies we can practice and implement to increase our focus. The more we practice them and are conscious of them, the more instinctual they become.

Tips on Becoming Present & Practicing Mindfulness:

  • Consider your values that drive your desire to be more present. Recall and review them periodically and assess your barometer whether you are being more or less preoccupied in your interactions.
  • Use an app such as Insight Timer (free app) or some other mechanism to spontaneously and randomly clue you in so that you can take a random moment to focus your attention. This particular app sends off a random gong sound that you can set. It also offers a plethora of guided meditations from well known meditation trainers.
  • On a daily basis take a moment and tap into your senses. Think about what three things you’re seeing, three things you’re hearing and three things you’re feeling.
  • On a daily basis take a moment to scan your body and take notice of all the sensations in your body. Scan yourself from head to toe, slowly and mindfully considering all sensations, whether they are more or less comfortable.
  • On a daily basis make it a point to focus on a thing where you notice its core elements, rather then what it represents to you or judging it for its components. For example, you could focus on a plant and just notice it. Notice it’s green, it has petals, it’s in a flower pot, etc. Your mind will go back to judging that the petals are wilting, that it doesn’t get enough sunlight and that you don’t have a green thumb. Notice those thoughts and return back to just “being” and noticing the plant. It helps with focused awareness and the observing self (noticing parts of yourself rather than judging or criticizing yourself which we all readily do).
  • Consciously do grounding exercises. These are exercises that remind you that you’re here right here, right now, promoting feelings of safety and security. For example, sitting down and consciously feeling your feet firmly planted on the ground and noting that you’re there in sound, body and mind.
  • Invest in a meditative practice that’s realistic for you. The time factor typically deters individuals from investing. The time can be customized based on your availability and needs. To help with this you can try: “How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind” by Pema Chodron (hardcover or audiobook) or “Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life” (hardcover) or “Guided Mindfulness Meditation Series 1” (audiobook) by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
  • Periodically listen to Dharma talks advocating for mindfulness. These talks tend to be short and are on topics such as loving kindness, basic goodness, fear, loving oneself and others, etc. You Tube has a wonderful collection by Pema Chodron, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sharon Salzberg, Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, etc. Find ones that speak to you and you can relate to. A series of Pema videos can be found at:
  • When you’re with a person you want to present with, prepare and consciously make that happen. Some ways to foster it is engaging in activities with the person, taking moments away with them from your typical distracting environment and letting the person gently remind you when they sense that your mind is wandering. For example, at all meals in my home, we are all prohibited from using electronic devices. Eating and meals are reserved for connection, conversation and mindful eating practices.

My client in high school resisted speaking to her father about his preoccupation. In her mind there was too much risk that she’ll be further rejected and just be more disappointed. I asked her what the worst thing that can happen. She came to the conclusion that the worst thing that can happen is the behavior will continue and she’ll know what to expect and the best thing that could happen is that he’ll be responsive to her. The most likely thing that can happen is that he’ll try his best because he loves her with the understanding that he’s bound to slip from time to time.

After deciding to speak to him, they came up with a cue where if he weren’t paying attention to her when she really needed him too, she would say, “earth to dad.” The relationship steadily improved between the two of them. He was invested in being more mindful and attentive and her more willing to share her feelings to allow him to respond to them.

Last week, my 11 year old son did a great job at describing to me how he integrated mindfulness practice into his daily life. He accepted that he gets distracted by his phone while he attempts to do homework. While accepting this about himself, he proactively asked my au pair to hold onto his phone while he completed his homework and not to return it back to him until he showed her that he completed it.

I was so proud of his initiative and felt pleased that he shared it with me. He explained, “My mind keeps telling me to take a look at my phone and respond to it. I know that about myself and I had to decide what I was going to do about it.” I gave him accolades for taking a mindful approach to his problem solving.

There are so many places we could integrate this practice which can make a fundamental difference, particularly with our impulsiveness, anger, defensiveness, etc. We have to start somewhere; why not here, now, in the present moment.

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