Part 2: Will Therapy Help Me be More Mindful Without Having to Meditate?
Some people do not find meditation helpful and I have often heard statements from clients like, “I can’t meditate no matter how hard I try!” Mindfulness, on the other hand, can and is often naturally used by everyone. I give some helpful tips below on how mindfulness rather than formal meditation can be used during everyday activities. I close this article with a brief discussion of some of the reasons I practice both mindfulness and meditation.
In the first part of this article, I discuss the distinction between mindfulness and meditation and why they can be helpful for lessening unhelpful emotions and thoughts.
How to Practice being Mindful
As you are beginning to see, you can practice mindfulness using meditation – and it is helpful for many people to do so – but you can also practice mindfulness during many other daily activities.
As part of many psychological treatment programs, mindfulness does not have to look a certain way. However, because mindfulness simply means being aware, when we are fully aware of whatever activity we are engaged in, we are being mindful. Therefore, a mindfulness practice can potentially involve any activity that you are doing. The trick is just to remember! This may sound easy enough, but it can be challenging. The mind often gets carried away, focused on our problems or trying to escape our situation. The key with mindfulness is to keep bringing the mind back to the current situation. It is a skill and like any skill, it involves practice.
Being mindful is not doing actions on auto-pilot, but rather being attentive to the sensations of the activity and the environment the activity occurs in. There are lots of ideas of mindful activities you can find.There is often an element of choice involved with a mindful exercise, especially at first, because it is much more difficult to intentionally allow our attention to “float” from object to object without getting lost in the mind.
1) Practice engaging with your sensation of TOUCH and TEMPERATURE when doing the dishes:
ASK YOURSELF: how does the water feel against your hands? How is the temperature different when your hands are under the water vs. out of the water? How is the form of each item you are washing different and how does they feel against your hands?
2) Practice engaging with your sensation of SOUND when taking a walk:
FOCUS ON: 20 things you hear. Notice whether the sounds are continuous or whether they start and stop. If you do not hear anything at first, just listen and wait until a sound emerges.
3) Practice engaging with your sensation of SIGHT when sitting with a loved one:
ENGAGE WITH: Seeing the other person. What are they wearing? Is this different from what they usually wear. How is their hair styled? Can you notice something about the person that you have not previously noticed?
4) Practice engaging with TASTE when eating your next meal:
BECOME AWARE OF: How you would describe the taste of the food. When does the taste begin? Does it start before the food hits your tongue? How long does the taste stay in your mouth after you swallow? What is actual taste versus memory or expectation?
Can you come up with your own mindfulness activities? I challenge you to try to think of a different one every day! Once you begin an exercise like this, you may find yourself being more and more mindful throughout every day. Think of it like an experiment. What might the benefits be?
The Benefits of Mindfulness for me
I have been practicing mindful meditation for a long time. I began when I was a teenager and have since regularly kept it up. I haven’t always meditated every day, but I have tried to. When working with clients, I promote a type of practice called present centeredness. I don’t push meditation on my clients. I do, however, promote practicing mindfulness as a tool for gaining insight into thoughts, feelings, sensations, behaviours, and the environment. I have found it very helpful for clients and gives them traction into the other techniques that we are focusing on.
So why do I, personally, practice mindfulness and meditation? Why do I find it meaningful? There are many reasons and answers to these questions, but perhaps sharing a brief story may be helpful.
The other day, I found myself discussing the practice of mindfulness versus relaxation with a client. We were exploring the difference between practices that change your experience and practices that work with accepting your experience whatever it may be. Neither practice is right or wrong, but they are different. Practices that change your experience can also be called distraction techniques and these can range from watching a funny movie to relaxation exercises and techniques to control the experience of anxiety. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is being curious about and engaged with any experience, regardless if it is positive, negative, or neutral. From being mindfulness of these experiences, we come to know that they are temporary. They do not last forever.
Staying with these experiences allows us to really undergo the temporality of the event. We can see not only the transient nature of the negative experiences, but also pleasant experiences and the neutral experiences. This may seem counterintuitive at first; it may seem that we want to understand that negative experiences do not last forever, but positive and neutral experiences are more challenging. However, this understanding it is necessary to begin to see into the nature of reality. The desire to change any experience is a cause of the suffering of us and all people. Through investigating these aspects, we may begin to understand that everything we go through, including our youth, our love, our family, our bodies, our thoughts, and even – especially – our lives are temporary. However, reading or writing these words is different from truly experiencing the meaning of them. We live with a veil of illusion over our eyes and it is only occasionally that this veil is lifted. It may be that it is lifted temporarily only through the scare of our own death, the mortality of a loved one, or changes in the world such as how I felt during the initial scare of COVID-19. In these moments, we can really see the temporality of ourselves and how the concreteness we experience is only a construction of our mind.
But this construction is powerful! The mind and body are one, so any construction of the mind affects the physical state of our body. The stories we have told ourselves, and we believe – really believe – are made of bricks so strong that it can take really courage and strength to even budge them, let alone break down the whole wall. So, this becomes the slow and steady process of a meditator – disassembling the wall of untruth that our minds have constructed. The wall is from childhood or even from our ancestors and the stories can be anything. They can differ from person to person, or they could be the same for some people, especially within a society. We can think of them as entitled “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not very intelligent” or even “I’m beautiful” or “I’m perfect”. The wall is not made of negative judgements, just stories, all of which create this veil of deception. I see it as my job as a meditator and as a person who practices mindfulness to deconstruct this wall to maybe glimpse what makes me human. By understanding myself, I can better understand others and walk beside them as they discover who they are and why they engage with life in the specific way that they do. It has been astonishing that through this practice all I am ultimately left with is saying “THANK YOU.” But of course, as the process of mindfulness shows, even this gratitude is fleeting…
Meditation is not for everyone. Meditation is not necessary to practice mindfulness. In the first part of this article, we talked about what mindfulness and meditation are. In this section, I presented some simple exercises you can do in your daily life to practice mindfulness. Therapy is a helpful way to learn some of these. Both meditation and mindfulness have been important in my personal growth and I described some of the reasons why. I am excited to share mindfulness practices with all clients and meditation for those who want it.