If you want to know why mindfulness is valuable and how it empowers us, you first need to understand what it means to be empowered. Being empowered is recognizing that you control what happens to you. Acknowledging you DO have the POWER to positively impact your life. We can use mindfulness as the tool to open the door to empowerment.
Mindfulness at its core shows you how to truly know yourself. It sparks a light deep inside of you where you rediscover peace and contentment. Mindfulness liberates you from the emotional shackles you have placed on yourself, sometimes unknowingly and gives you back your freedom.
The usual scenario…
How often do you lay awake in bed at night overthinking, tossing and turning? I usually start worrying about one little thing, and the next moment it feels like I have the burden of the world on my shoulders. I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me and will try everything to FORCE myself to sleep. Change positions, use a different pillow, or I will close my eyes and try and focus on the darkness.
I often fail miserably. Fast forward to the next morning. I wake up groggy and irritable, I am snappy toward my son and I desperately need caffeine. Going to work is hard and I struggle to concentrate. I am exhausted. The irony is, come bedtime I CANT SLEEP, and the cycle continues.
Looking back if I examine my thoughts, not only was I a tried stress ball, I was negative. In my physical tiredness and agitation my mind would add fuel to the fire. It made me feel as though it was impossible to find any positivity in my day. I thought about terrible things, bad memories would suddenly pop up and it felt as though my brain wanted to make sure I stayed miserable.
From one evening of no sleep, it felt as if my mind had pushed me into full-blown depression. I would think of things like, “why is my life so difficult”, “what am I doing wrong”, “you used to be so motivated and happy”. Does this sound familiar? Well, let me enlighten you on how mindfulness empowers us!
Mindfulness empowers us because it shows us a way out of this torment. Practicing mindfulness teaches you to view your reality in an alternative way. Now it is not a happy pill, or a quick fix. Life will continue to throw you curve balls, and emotions good and bad will come and go. I cannot take away your sadness or anxiety. Besides it is not the feeling or thought that does the damage, but how you react to it.
Mindfulness will teach you how to identify your negative thoughts and emotions and give you back control, so you can stop your thoughts from going into a downward spiral. A bad night will no longer turn into a stressful tomorrow. One argument with your spouse will no longer make you feel depressed and overwhelmed.
Humans are natural problem solvers. We are wired to find answers and solutions to our problems. If for whatever reason I suddenly start feeling a little blue, my natural response is to ask myself how do I stop feeling this way? I have asked myself things like, “why am I unhappy?”, “what is making me feel so sad?” and “how can I fix it?”. When I don’t stop feeling sad my mind immediately starts to criticize. I start feeling even worse because I have failed to find a solution. Now my brain tells me there is something wrong with me, and I am not the person I wish I was.
Our minds are intricately connected with our memories. What starts off as an innocent moment of sadness will automatically trigger a memory. The brain will bring up all the times you have felt sad in the past, flooding your mind with negative memories. Your mind does this to “defend” itself, it is part of an ingrained survival instinct. If the mind has felt sad before, it must have escaped this feeling, so how did it do it?
Unfortunately, we are not all wired with healthy solutions to this problem. So what started off as a small fleeting feeling has now turned into an overwhelming barrage of thoughts and emotions. These feelings of sadness then turn into sorrow, anxiety and dread.
Mindfulness does not stop the brain from trying to solve problems. It gives us the space and time to CHOOSE how we can solve the problem better.
In the book, Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, the authors describe Mindfulness as having two important levels. In order to become more mindful we need to practice daily meditation and the second is to break our unconscious habits in the way we think and behave. The authors suggest that our judgmental and critical thoughts come from habits we have formed with our thinking. Like I described above, the downward spiral we often find ourselves in – is habitual.
Mindfulness provides us with the opportunity to break these unhealthy habits. Meditation is a great way to interrupt this process. When we meditate we gain a sense of clarity and we become more patient. Meditation teaches you to recognize when memories and negative thoughts arise and instead of getting caught up in them, you simply observe them and watch them disappear.
So when you feel like reacting to an experience as soon as it arises, just stop. Not everything needs to be fixed or changed. sometimes they can be left alone.
I want to create another scenario for you. Think back to a terrible day at work. Maybe your boss is breathing down your neck, your co-workers are irritating you, and no matter how hard you try, the report you are writing just isn’t good enough. You feel tired and useless. A friend calls you up and invites you out to dinner, and you accept the invitation. After work you meet up with your friends, you have a glass of wine, and you start chatting to your friends about the crappy day you had. Eventually, you are relaxed you’re laughing and having a good time. All your stress has vanished.
What has changed, why do you feel better? The only reason your mood has improved is because you are in a different place with different people. Your job is still going to be there tomorrow and your boss is still going to be breathing down your neck. It took something outside of yourself to make you feel better, it was the external environment that made you feel happy. The problem is that there wont always be an external opportunity to take you out of your negative situation.
Mindfulness shows you that you can shift this perspective. You can stop relying on external experiences to change your mood and start changing your internal environment. We all have the capability to change the way our minds relate to the world. You are no longer a victim to your feelings and circumstances.
In a previous blog post I spoke about The 7 Attitudes Of Mindfulness.
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
These attitudes are vital when cultivating a new perspective on life. They are easy to adopt and simple to practice. For a more in-depth understanding read the article above.
To make things a little easier to understand I am going to explain how you can implement some of these attitudes into your daily routine. No need to make it complicated at first. I think most of us underestimate how making small changes can have a MASSIVE impact on our lives.
Every single day we judge ourselves and others, whether we are aware of it or not. This continuous barrage of thoughts becomes habitual. These beliefs then start guiding our everyday behavior. The non-judging attitude of mindfulness offers an alternative. Start becoming aware of your inner dialogue, observe what judgements come up and let them go. Try not react to them, there is no need to change them or fix them, you accept what is.
All I ask of you is to be mindful of when you jump to conclusions. For now just be aware of when they come up (What do you judge others for? What do you judge yourself for?).
Patience is the ability to deal with uncertainty and to let life unfold as it is meant to. Next time you are waiting in a queue, and the person in front of you is taking forever, pay attention to the impatience you feel. What feelings come up for you? What do you wish you could change? Why not take a deep breath and find something you can appreciate in that moment. You don’t want one little impatient experience to ruin your whole day.
When you adopt a beginner’s mind, you train yourself to see everything as if for the first time. Often we get stuck in the mindset that we know everything there is to know about ourselves, people and the world. When we do this we miss an opportunity to learn. The next time you see someone you know, try to see this person with fresh eyes, don’t let your own thoughts about this person get in the way. Is there something about them you had not noticed before?
Mindfulness encourages you to trust yourself deeply. It asks you to start believing in your intuition and “gut feelings” no matter how crazy or nonsensical they may feel to you. Stop comparing yourself to others and honour your feelings. Do you listen to your intuition or do you ignore it? When was the last time you went with your gut?
The goal of mindfulness is to be yourself, nothing more and nothing less. This is why mindfulness empowers us. Stop thinking that you should be somewhere else or be somebody else. Non-striving discourages the “If only” thinking. If only I was smarter, If only I was more patient. Rather it encourages you to just observe, so it is okay if you are feeling a little irritable right now, or if you feel impatient in this moment. It is what it is. If you stop striving for results and just focus and accept what is, through practice and meditation you will eventually move toward your goals.
Acceptance is the ability to see things as they actually are in the present moment. Accepting yourself, people and the world around you and coming to terms with the way things are. For now, just try and reflect on how acceptance and denial show up in your life. What do you struggle to come to terms with?
When you begin to pay attention to your inner experiences you will soon discover that there are certain thoughts, emotions and events that your mind will hold onto. Letting go means accepting things as they are. This does not mean I want you to tolerate or agree with everything you think and feel. It simply means that it no longer has power over you. What have you been holding onto that no longer serves you? What resentments do you need to let go of?
In order to bring about change all you have to do is start experimenting with these attitudes. You can do this by simply keeping them in mind or by noticing how easy or difficult it is to adopt a new outlook. If in the beginning, all you do is notice that you lack patience or lack trust – then that’s great! Mindfulness gives us the space to be self-reflective, to learn, listen and understand ourselves deeply!
It can be very difficult for many people to adopt a new attitude or change their perspective. This is where meditation is your friend. Meditation is the key to how mindfulness empowers us. It helps you recognize when your mind starts to go into the vicious cycle of feeding off itself. When you find yourself over-thinking, or are bombarded with judgmental thoughts it reminds you there is an alternative. Meditation will bring you back to a place where you are given the choice of how you react to things.
Constantly agonizing over your problems will not fix them. We often think that if we worry enough the solution will come. This could not be farther from the truth. Finding solutions to our problems will come when the mind is NOT worrying about everything. So the next time you feel overwhelmed, tired and stressed try this one minute mediation instead. Trust me, once you have calmed the mind, the answers will unfold.
By adopting a new attitude or by shifting your perspective many positive changes will occur in your life. Mindfulness is a marvelous way to regain control of your life. If at any point in your day, you feel too tired, anxious or stressed to deal with your problems, just try a one minute meditation or check out these 6 mindfulness exercises. You will thank yourself afterwards!