How Mindfulness Changes A Life (For Good)

I was interviewed by a Los Angeles news channel. I never thought I would say that. I am not big on media. Have had no desire to be on the news. Don’t watch television. Try and ignore current events the best that I can. But when asked to come on the channel and be interviewed about what mindfulness is and how it can help with anxiety, I thought, Why not? Why not try and pass the information along to others who could possibly benefit from it?

It was ironic that I was there to talk about how mindfulness can help with anxiety since in that moment, I was applying the technique I was there to talk about. I was feeling anxious the moment I walked into the news studio. All the cameras and bright lights made me very aware that all eyes would be on me. Yikes! I was kindly greeted by a young lady and asked to sit in a chair while waiting my turn. She pointed out where I could get some complimentary coffee and donuts if I liked. I thanked her but decided to decline the potential panic attack that more coffee and a sugar-filled donut could generate in me.

As I sat in the chair, I noticed I was still feeling very anxious. Interesting, I thought. What was I anxious about? I realized I was worried that I would make a fool of myself. That I would say something wrong. Public humiliation. That I would mess up and be negatively judged by others. All kinds of negative thoughts were flooding my brain. Fortunately, I knew the difference between anxiety and fear. Fear is a perfectly natural human emotion that is the result of an immediate threat. Anxiety is the expectation of a future threat. It is normal and even beneficial for a person’s survival to feel fear but the emotion of fear does not need to turn into anxiety. Anxiety just makes us unwell.

I reminded myself that, “Right now, I am fine. None of the potential threats I am imagining in my head are happening. In this moment everything is ok.” This helped me to pull back from my thoughts, become aware of reality (where I was in the present moment instead of being caught up in the imagined future inside my head) and ground myself in the right here, right now. My nervousness dissipated. My blood pressure and heart rate went down. I felt much better. I then felt like I could cope with whatever challenges lay ahead.

Before I went on, there was an entomologist being interviewed about bugs and the outbreak of a certain kind of insect that may destroy all the palm trees in Los Angeles. Then there was the head of LATrump.com who was talking about how wonderful Donald Trump is and how sketchy Hillary is. Since I am not a supporter of Donald Trump but respect everyone’s right to their own opinion and position, I had to use all of my mindfulness muscles to feel my feet on the ground, follow my breathing and not say, “You really believe this?” Once the Trump supporter (who seemed like a very nice lady) was done being interviewed, the newscaster said something like, “Well ok. That’s a lot! Very intense. Thank goodness up next we have Randall Sokoloff, a mindfulness teacher, who can help teach us all about how to calm down.” I laughed under my breath at how ridiculous this sounded.

Once it was my turn, I sat in the chair behind the news desk. The newscasters said hello to me and one asked how to pronounce my last name. The lady who was putting the microphone on me said, “So what is this mindfulness thing? Is it some sort of religious or spiritual thing?” I said, “No.” “Is it a metaphysical thing like being hypnotized?” “Hypnotized, are you kidding me?” I said. I couldn’t help myself. “It is the opposite of being hypnotized. It is about being right here, right now.” She looked at me like I was nuts, so I took the opportunity to elaborate. “Just become aware of your feet on the ground. Just come out of being so caught up in your thoughts right now and notice your feet on the ground. That’s mindfulness” She looked confused. She looked down at her feet. I don’t think she got it. I let it go.

The newscasters talked to me a little bit about what I did and seemed very interested. I asked one of the newscasters, “If I mess up could we do a retake?” She gave me a look and told me that everything would be fine, to just go ahead and use my mindfulness. I thought this was funny. As a mindfulness teacher, I appreciate how sometimes this mindfulness stuff gets thrown back at me in comical ways.

Suddenly, I was on tv. The newscasters came alive, like switching on a light bulb in a dark bathroom. “Today we have with us Randall Sokoloff, a psychotherapist who uses mindfulness techniques with his clients and has a mindfulness group in Claremont, California. Since I think we could all use some anxiety relief just about now I am interested in hearing what Mr. Sokoloff has to tell us about finding some relief in these anxious times. Hello Randall! Thanks for being with us.” I was on. As I talked, I noticed my voice sounding a bit shaky because of whatever residual nervousness I was still feeling. I was thankful to the newscaster who helped me out by saying, “I tell you, just from the sound of your voice alone, I am already feeling more relaxed and calm.”

Everything flowed from there. I guess you could say I was in the zone even though my anxiety was never all gone. I went on to talk about what anxiety is (the expectation of a future threat) and how a person could use mindfulness to effectively manage it. I wonder if they knew that I was practicing what I was talking about on the spot? Suddenly I shifted the focus off of me by asking the newscasters to bring their attention to following their breathing and become aware of their hands touching their desk. One of them was so impressed by how much more grounded he immediately felt. It was as if I just showed him an alternative life option he never knew existed before.

Six minutes were up before I knew it. One of the newscasters thanked me and was asking how people can get in touch with me if they wanted to come to one of my workshops and I was thinking, Done already? I was just getting started. I need warm up time! There was still so much more I wanted to say and I wondered if what I had just said made any sense. I was nervous! I wanted a retake. Suddenly I was feeling regret and worry about not being as a good as I wanted to be. Ten minutes ago I was feeling anxious because I was focused on the future. Now I was worrying about the past. My crazy mind.

I shook a few people’s hands and like often happens when people find out that you work as a psychotherapist, I listened as several people told me about various challenges in their lives. As I always do in this situation, I told myself to just stay present, follow your breathing and let the person finish talking while doing the best you can to listen and empathize. On my way out of the news studio I was happy to be done. As is almost always the case with this tempestuous anxiety that I have had for most of my life, nothing that I was worried about had actually happened. It was all just in my head.

Walking to my car, I was aware of my feet on the ground, sounds that I was hearing and my breathing. I was also aware that I was still concerned I had somehow messed up. Maybe I didn’t say the right things? Maybe I didn’t make any sense? I was in the past. “What is done is done,” I told myself and then let those thoughts go to wherever thoughts go when they disappear.

As I drove home, I realized that there was no way that me ten years ago could of done something like this. No way. My anxiety would have kept me far, far away. Even though being on the news is such a small and fleeting thing, in many ways it is these kinds of small accomplishments that are a larger testament to how the practice of mindfulness can really change a person’s life for good.

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