Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Creating Mindfulness in a Busy World

By Judson Chaney, ND, LAc

I recently had a great conversation with a friend, discussing his family vacation to Florida. The family drove the entire way down from the northeast, all the way to Florida and back, even though flying was an option available to them. What impressed me was that the family planned the trip to include the voyage down to Florida as a major component of the vacation, taking extra time to stop and see sights, and attractions along the way. They all understood that the stops and excursions during the voyage were just as important as arriving at the destination. To be honest, I too was more interested in hearing about some of the quirky roadside attractions they encountered than the destination. In other words, it was really the journey that mattered. I thought that this was a wonderful metaphor for mindfulness.

Being mindful is to simply be aware or conscious of something. As a passenger on a car trip, it may be the sights out of the car window, feeling the wind through your fingers, or stopping to take in a scenic overlook. In health and healing it is applied to focusing ones awareness to the present moment, and all of the thoughts, sensations and feelings one may be experiencing.

The ancient Chinese labeled the brain as a “curious” organ. The brain seeks to recognize patterns, and cultivates questions regarding not just the present moment, but the past and future as well. This function is crucial to our survival. In my opinion, our ability to seek out information, cultivate questions, and grapple with possible outcomes has been a key component in our advancement and success as a species.

What could go possibly wrong? Many of us may have experienced a time when our problem solving brains do not want to stop. It may surface as insomnia, anxiety, a relative sense of unease, restlessness, or inability to relax. Sometimes, even when there are no problems to solve, our brain is more than willing to imagine something for us to work on in our spare time (isn’t that fun). In doing so, we can miss out on many experiences happening around us because we are focusing on everything else except the present moment.

So what are we to do? Today we are exposed to more information, streaming at a faster pace than ever before in human history. Our natural tendencies towards curiosity and problem solving can be inadvertently set to overdrive. This can be taxing mentally and physically and can be a key contributor to our total overall stress levels. This internal overdrive, although beneficial in intent, can ultimately become an obstacle to our enjoyment of life. I would suggest taking a moment to cultivate mindfulness each day. When you find your thoughts racing, or worries compounding, try to take a step back from the situation and take a deep breath.

Next, employ mindfulness to your advantage by building on your natural tendencies for thought. If you are person who is very visual, and you find it easy to imagine images, pictures and movies, use your eyes to seek something pleasing to look at near you. This can be something from nature, such as a tree or a bird in flight, it could be a painting on the wall, a building you like, a sunset, or the way the rain falls into a puddle. Take a moment and really allow yourself to see and observe. Note the different aspects of it in your mind and let your eyes soak in as much of the beauty and interest they can find.

If you are more inclined to have an internal dialogue, and your mind is full of an ongoing conversation, use your ears to listen to the world around you. If you are outside, pay attention to the wind as it moves through the trees, or the sounds of the rain, or the chirping of birds. Note how many sounds you can distinguish and pay attention to and let the world around you become awake and alive with sound.

What is most important about the above examples is not what you are looking at or listening to, but rather that you are paying attention in the present moment. In doing so we acknowledge and connect with the world around us, and provide our curious brains food for thought. We take a mental break from the streams of thoughts that may become burdensome at times, and allow ourselves to be present.

To utilize the example of the road trip again, the journey is long, and at times the road can make us weary. It is healthy and necessary to pull the car over every once in a while, take a deep breath, stretch our legs, and allow ourselves a moment to take in the sounds and scenery along the way. Happy Travels…

To learn more, sign up for our 5-week Mindful Awareness summer class next month at Riverview Medical Center on Wednesdays from July 12, 2017 to August 9, 2017, 8:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

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