A Journey Towards Inner Peace

 

We hear a lot about mindfulness in the mental health profession and the concept of “mindfulness” has even made its way onto mainstream media. We see magazines like Time and Newsweek with articles about mindfulness and ways to apply it to our lives, but is it really possible to be mindful 100% of the time? If we were, would it really help us to feel happier?

What is mindfulness?

First let’s start with what it isn’t. Mindfulness isn’t venting to our best friend about our latest drama with our ex. Mindfulness isn’t eating a plate full of brownies because we’re feeling upset that we got passed over for a promotion at work. What would mindfulness look like in those situations? Let’s take a look.

What mindfulness is:

Let’s say your ex has recently found it entertaining to shake up your world in some unwanted way and you have the urge to call a friend to vent. Pause. Experience the emotion that comes with your reaction. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself what it is that you need in this moment and what can be done about this situation. Realize that you’re much more likely to reach a healthier outcome if you react after you’ve calmed down. Allow yourself 20 minutes to focus on validating this moment.

What happens during these 20 minutes?

First of all, tell yourself that it is more than okay to be upset! If someone is doing something intentionally or unintentionally to upset you, it’s okay to be upset! Give yourself that permission because you are human and part of humanity is experiencing emotional reactions to situations. Try your best to identify which emotion(s) you’re experiencing. Are you angry, frustrated, hurt, confused, feel unheard, feel misunderstood, and/or feel disrespected? Now try to figure out what it is about your ex’s actions that elicited those emotional reactions. Now think about whether or not this reaction is helpful for you. Will it enhance your life to remain in an emotional state about this? No? Okay, then here’s what we can start to do.

Be aware of your body. Be aware of your breathing. Acknowledge that your body is still able to take air in, filter it through your blood system, and release air back into the world. Acknowledge that your physical body is okay. That you’re alive, that you are going to get through this moment, and that this moment will pass. There are many moments in life that come and that go, but this moment does not control the outcome of who you will be in the next moment. You may not be in control of what others do, but you have full control over your reactiveness. Focus on your breathing.

What are we beginning to learn about mindfulness?

Mindfulness is being in control of reactiveness. Mindfulness is taking away external power and control over our happiness. Mindfulness is peace. Mindfulness is awareness of our physical, spiritual, and emotional selves. Mindfulness is feeling whole and complete in broken and disjointed surroundings. If your reaction to this post is to tell yourself that you’re incapable of attaining this type of peace, think again. Mindfulness is not a destination; it’s a journey, a learning experience, and ongoing mission because you’re worth it. You only get one life. Do you want to spend that life being pushed back and forth by the crashing waves of your experiences, or do you want to have the ability to remain steadfast as those experiences wash past you? You will still be influenced, molded, and changed by those experiences, but they will lose their power to knock you down. Even in your most difficult moments, you will still be able to appreciate the gift of existing.

Is mindfulness just about your emotions?

Absolutely not! Mindfulness is about the connectedness of your entire body. Being mindful means awareness of what you eat and how that fuels your body and knowing when a cheat meal is in order to balance out your reward system. Being mindful means listening to what your body is trying to tell you if it’s in pain. Being mindful even means allowing yourself to cry, to scream, and to release the tension within yourself. Mindfulness is body, mind, and spirit learning to speak to each other and learning to listen to each other so that you will be able to feel more balanced.

The best part?

You cannot fail. No human alive is capable of remaining in a mindful, meditative state of mind 100% of the time. We will all need to eat. We will all be affected by a health concern at some point. We will all experience loss, grief, disappointment, and all the other life experiences out there. To live a life unaffected by others would be a tragedy indeed. You want it to affect you; you just don’t want it to affect you in a negative way. You want to channel your growth so that a bad experience makes you stronger – not destroyed. As long as you are attempting to begin your journey of self-awareness and connectedness to your environment, mind, and body, you’re already achieving something that will enhance the beauty that is your existence.

I’ll be with you on this journey.

We’re going to be reviewing mindfulness research, testimonies, insights, tips, and much more from some of the experts. Make sure you subscribe so you can stay connected as you seek to round out your life and gain the peace your mind is craving.

By Tracey L. Vazquez
Mental health professional in the DC Area
M.S. in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling

Mindful Eating

As I’m researching the concept of mindfulness, I was browsing through “99 Ways to Live a Mindful Life” edited by Kelle Walsh and published by James Gimian in 2017. Of the 99 mindfulness tips, numbers 67-77 were focused on mindful eating. My first thought was, “Wow, should eating really account for over a tenth of the mindfulness tips?” But, eating is a big deal, right? Some of us may feel as though we’re already too aware of what we eat. Some of us are used to feeling ashamed or judged due to our food choices and the idea of being more mindful may seem like asking for an extra serving of guilt with a side of shame. Mindful eating is not as painful as it sounds and it is not the same thing as being overly self-conscious about what you eat. If done correctly, mindful eating should help you feel better about eating – not worse. Let’s take a look!

Monotask

We get so used to multitasking in our corporate and 9-5 society that we rarely ever hear of monotasking. What is monotasking and what does it have to do with eating? Monotasking is – as it sounds – focusing on a singular task. Instead of planning what you’ll do next after eating lunch, scribbling out your to-do list over breakfast, or catching up on your social media during dinner, just stop. Put your phone away. Slide the paperwork to the side of your desk. Focus on your meal and the nourishment that you’re about to enjoy. You would be surprised what a calm, monotasked meal can do for your mental health.

Elemental Consideration

When you pick up that baby carrot as a snack around 2 pm, do you think about the life of this baby carrot before you consume it? The farmer that planted the seed, the rain and soil that nurtured it, the hands that harvested it, the inspector who approved it for consumption, the transit into a market place, and the worker who stocked the produce area; this carrot has been through an immense journey in order to arrive in your hands as a snack. If we are more mindful of the process, nature, and people who contributed to each item we consume, we are more likely to savor the nutrients and be grateful for what the earth has provided.

Sensory Input

It comes as no surprise that part of being mindful during our consumption of food involves our senses. Taking time to appreciate the smell, the texture, the freshness, etc. can enhance your enjoyment of the meal altogether. Even if you’re eating something that you’ve already eaten a hundred times because it’s your favorite meal, take the time to appreciate every aspect of what you’re consuming and try your best to identify what it is that you like about it.

For example, “I love the smell of coffee in the morning because I associate the smell with the idea of a new day beginning. I love the warmth of the coffee as it coats my throat because I wake up with a dry mouth and the comforting, warm liquid is the perfect cure. As I drink my coffee, I always remember mornings with my mother; we used to talk about life and ideas until the chaos of the day had to begin once our cups were empty. I also think about my father; I inherited a brand-specific taste for coffee due to the familiar smell that used to fill our home; his favorite coffee became my favorite. A simple cup of coffee in the morning is both the promise and possibility of the day and a reminder of my parents and a childhood that once was in their home.”

Task Time

Give it a try! Write a paragraph or describe to a friend what you love about your favorite drink/food and try to identify the specifics that make it your favorite. Now imagine doing this over every single dish that brings you pleasure! What a wonderful experience that would be if we could enjoy something as simple as breakfast in a magical way.

Body feeds Mind

An obvious yet important-to-mention part of mindful eating is acknowledging the connection between your body and mind. When you put good things into your body, your mind is a healthier and happier dwelling place. As you eat, try your best to think about what your body needs rather than what it wants. Many sources recommend a 20-minute timer to curb unhealthy cravings. Other people assign themselves a cheat day twice a month and write a note to remind themselves that this craving they’re having right now is something they’d like to indulge in later. Others rid the house of unhealthy foods and replace them with healthier options. Whatever your tactic is, tapping in to what your body needs vs what your body thinks it wants is an important piece of mindful eating. Be aware of how the food you’re eating was prepared, where it came from, and how much of it your body needs for fuel.

Mind feeds Body

Remember that the mind-body connection goes both ways. If you do have a moment when nothing else will suffice but ice cream in bed, don’t add guilt and shame as a topping to your dessert! Enjoy your treat without the mental shame game. Remember that negative foods lead to negative emotions and negative thoughts lead to stress hormones and weight gain. Ingest nutritious and healthy foods and invest in nurturing and healthy thoughts. This is a lot easier said than done considering how body-focused our society is, but remember that you are in control of your thoughts and feelings. You’re not choosing healthy foods because society tells you to – you’re choosing healthy foods because you care about the wellbeing of your body and mind.

Mental Health Note

Some people struggle with eating disorders that result in over-eating, binge eating, purging, or restricting nutrients. If you identify with a genuine struggle when it comes to eating, don’t suffer alone. Join a support group. Talk to a nutritionist. See a mental health therapist who specializes in eating disorders. Get help. Mindful eating also means being mindful of when eating or not eating is a hardship. If this is something you struggle to feel okay with, don’t blame yourself. Eating disorders arise from a variety of experiences that are often out of our control. You do not need to feel ashamed or discouraged; instead, love yourself enough to know that you’re worth the time it takes to connect to helpful resources in your community.

Tracey L. Vazquez
M.S. in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling
August 20th, 2017
Reference
Walsh, Kelle (2017). 99 Ways to live a mindful life. The Foundation for a Mindful Society, 68-70.