On Wednesday nights until June 17 we meet to talk about mindfulness and doodle, dream and create in our affirmation journals. This Wednesday we talked about the difference between Mind or Mental Wandering & Conscious Internal Reflection, cynicism and positivity/optimism. Here’s a glimpse at some of our conversation.
Mental Wandering is defined as the mind getting off track, meandering away from the task at hand. Mind Wandering shows up as rumination, worry, fear, judgment, biases etc. Just as you would suspect, it is tied to a negative mood. More seriously, it is related to something called chronic psychological stress, suffered by millions. Chronic psychological stress is built on a mind consumed by rumination, fear and worry.
A mind distracted by rumination, fear or worry is scattered, unfocused, unstable and impaired.
The opposite of Mental Wandering is Conscious Internal Reflection, or a mindful mind. Evidence is showing that when we train ourselves to be more mindful (using mindfulness techniques, reminders or meditation) it significantly reduces and reverses any chronic psychological stress you may have. It also improves mental health, physical health and emotional health. It prevents and alleviates depression, loneliness and even chronic pain.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS TRAINING?
Meditation is a wonderful way to come into mindfulness, so are any number of techniques where your awareness is brought to the present moment through your senses.
We did an exercise in the first class where we dropped into our bodies to feel our aliveness. You can do it now. Close your eyes. Notice the sensation in the palms of your hands. Feel the rise and fall of your breath. Concentrate on your chest. Notice how the breath moves your body. The next time you wash your hands, notice all the physical sensations related to that activity: the water on your hands, the sensation of the sudsy soap, the smell of the soap, the sound of the water etc. When we move from our thinking brain into our feeling brain we are practicing mindfulness.
This practice builds the ability to willfully direct our attention through any kind of stimulation (inward or outward) while simultaneously being in the greater awareness of what is happening in the moment.
We start to pay attention to the ongoing perceptual experience instead of conceptual trains of though. In other words, we move from our thinking brain into our feeling brain.
This ability changes your relationship to your thoughts, even stressful ones. It builds the ability to accept with curiosity the events of your life as they unfold.
INNER LANDSCAPE & CONSCIOUS INTERNAL REFLECTION
It is important for us to be able to understand and drop into our inner landscape. Our inner landscape is our thoughts, memories, feelings, inner knowing, essentially the inside of you. In order to get comfortable here, kindness and curiosity are required.
A mindfulness practice helps us learn to willfully direct our attention to the internal with a sense of curiosity, allowing thoughts to roam freely. This kind of daydreaming boosts positive mood and creativity. This kind of daydreaming is called conscious internal reflection and is the opposite of mental wandering.
Can you think of times when you were mind wandering?
What were you thinking about and how did it make you feel?
What were the sensations in your body?
Can you think of times when you were daydreaming in conscious internal reflection?
What were you thinking of, and how did it make you feel?
What were the sensations in your body?
The biggest difference I notice is that one leaves me feeling annoyed and uncomfortable, the other leave me feeling light, happy and very inspired.
MINDFULNESS & CURIOSITY
With a mindfulness practice and curiosity we start to have the ability to not react emotionally or get caught up in self centred or self obsessive narrative. We start to examine and dismantle deep seeded fear, anger, habits, biases and self sabotage. At first this process is painful. It gets easier the more you practice it.
The next time you are in a tough situation and you feel your nervous system exploding (anger, fear, frustration, helplessness all trigger physiological reactions that we feel intensely in our bodies) try taking a breath and noticing where in your body you feel the sensation. Then try to name the sensation. Is it hot, cold, tingly, watery, shaky, tight, explosive? Basically, lean into it. Allow yourself to feel the big emotion. Quicker than you think it will level out. You will be more able to come into mindful awareness and clarity.
This practice helps you to stop reacting emotionally and start responding in alignment with your values.
MINDFULNESS & THE HARD STUFF
Mindfulness is not all , peace, love and serenity now. That would serve only to gloss over disappointment, injustice or heart break. The goal is the opposite. Mindfulness teaches us to lean into, understand and move through our biggest emotions so that we can become more resilient. The difficult moments in our life are what create resiliency. Resiliency is one of the biggest determinations in a person’s level of happiness and feelings of fulfillment in life.
We are not here to have a clean easy go of it. The human experience is messy. Mindfulness teaches us to be open to all of it in a relaxed and alert way. It teaches us to investigate and trust our inner wisdom so we can act in accordance with our values.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to grasp in all of this is that we aren’t to do anything differently. We come into a place are we are being different. This is challenging in a society that taught us to do and act. Someone said in class, we are not human doing, we are human being. If we change how we are being: alive in each moment, alert in each moment, awake in each moment, and open in each moment, if we allow ourselves to trust in the inherent good heartedness in other humans, we open ourselves to more risks but we also invite in more abundance and joy. We start vibrating at a frequency that attracts beauty and bounty and bliss.
Cynicism lets us stay distant, cool and superior to the messiness of the human experience. It works as a shield that we think we are safely protected behind. This shield also protects you from life’s subtleties, inspirations and nuances. Behind immovable ideas you are and will remain isolated. This stance keeps you from experiencing heart ache, disappointment and embarrassment, but is also keeps you from developing resilience.
As stated above, but worth repeating, resilience is one of the biggest determinators of happiness and life satisfaction.
POSITIVITY & OPTIMISM
While positivity and optimism improve the length of our lives and quality of our health, improve our recovery times and even prevent dementia, we need to be careful of glossing over our experiences. We must stop dismissing how we really feel and learn to lean into whatever comes up for us in each moment. Being overly positive not only puts unrealistic expectations upon yourself (which we explored last week creates negative thoughts) it is simply another false shield from being and experiencing all of life’s messiness, beauty and bounty.
When we come into mindful awareness instead of slapping a positive rainbow sparkling smiling kitten on an experience, we see the truth and we can act accordingly. We stay grounded and see the true unlimited potential available. When we are too positive and don’t allow ourselves to honestly evaluate our thoughts, feelings and experiences, we block emotions in our physical bodies. These blocked emotions wreak all kinds of havoc. These blocked emotions create veils through which we see the world. These blocked emotions are unhealthy and ultimately create much more unhappiness in the long run because they are ignored and left to fester.
I believe the best approach to this human experience, is to stop wasting time on judging ourselves or others and start leaning into the discomfort so we can create a revolution of people who truly love their lives!