Six Honest Ways To Create Mindfulness Now.

Mindfulness is an attitude or a way of perceiving reality just like being identified with thoughts and feelings is an attitude or a way of perceiving reality. Just like everything else in life, possessing an attitude of mindfulness is a choice. A choice that ultimately leads to less suffering. Here are six thing you can do right now to create more mindfulness in your life:

1) Are you identified with negative judgments right now? Not liking someone or something? Wanting things to be different than how they are? Feeling bad or critical about yourself or thinking that you are right and others are dumb? Being identified with negative judgments is like burning ourselves with a flame. It hurts. As long as we identify with our negative judgments we will be unhappy people. It is not that you will suddenly stop having negative judgments, but see if you can just be aware of them without acting upon them or articulating them. Just leave them alone and notice how when you do this they go away.

2) Are you reacting to distressing feelings? Do you continually try and push away, deny or get rid of feelings of distress? Feelings of distress are as normal as the sun coming up in the morning. If we do not learn how to skillfully deal with our distressful feelings we will suffer. See if you can notice when distressing feelings arise in you and then just welcome them. Even though distressing feelings are uncomfortable, who said life should be comfortable all the time? Why keep fighting against it? How about just letting the feelings of distress be there? Become mindful of your distressing feelings and leave them alone. Notice how the moment you welcome them (rather than react to them) they lose their potency and are no longer as distressing anymore.

3) Are you accepting your life as it is in this moment? Or are you trying to change or fix things about this moment? Make things how you think they should be? Good luck. This is a mountain that no one ever reaches the top of. Life just becomes a continual climb to nowhere. Not wanting to feel what we are already feeling in this moment is the surest way to make what we are feeling worse. See if you can just be aware of where you are at in this moment. Notice how it feels. Now see if you can just accept it. Leave it alone. Let it be. Stop trying to swim against the current. Acceptance is the key which opens the door to a more peaceful and calm life. The trouble is that most of us can’t seem to find the key. I am handing you the key. Here. Accept what is right now. Leave it alone. Alan Watts said, “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

4) Are you in a hurry right now? Do you want to get rid of some uncomfortable feeling in your body right away? Do you need to have things the way you think they should be now? Do you have to have everything all figured out and tightened up now? Good luck again. How about being patient? Isn’t patience a fundamental virtue? So just be patient. Leave things alone. Stop trying to change or fix things. Be willing to accept things as they are and then just be patient. Patient requires a kind of faith or trust that everything will work out. When we are patient we are willing to sit with uncertainty and not knowing. We just leave things as they are and find patience in learning to live with the uncertainty. Another way to think about being patient is be willing to be comfortable with the discomfort. This is a fundamental aspect of meditation practice and of living a good life. Life is uncomfortable so it is very beneficial to learn how to be comfortable with discomfort.

5) Daniel Higgs, a poet, wrote, “Anything outside of the present moment is a form of slavery.” Mindfulness is a way of being that is aware of each passing moment. Life is viewed as moments to be lived rather than task after task to be accomplished. As we grow older years seem to pass by in the blink of an eye but moments or even hours seem to maintain a similar duration as when we were younger. When we create so many problems and issues and things to do in our lives we are no longer aware of the passing moments. We are being pulled into the future continually or dragged back into the past all the time. We rarely seem to tend to the passing moments in our lives and then when we reach 40 or 50 or 60 we think, “Wow, my life went by so fast!” Yes it did. You were not aware of the passing moments. Be present. Tend to the moments of your life if you want to live a life that feels longer. If you don’t want to do this, that is fine, but please don’t be surprised when it feels like life went by so fast.

6) Are you lost in your head right now? Thinking about all kinds of things? Judging what I am writing? Thinking about other stuff? What about your body? What is going on there? Our bodies are always present. Our noses, our toes, our ears, our lips, our lungs, our heart, our knees- they all exist in the present. It is only this small portion of our brain that creates thoughts that usually have something to do with some place other than right now. We have been conditioned to be more identified with this very small section of our brain rather than the other 99% of what is going on with our bodies. Being aware of our senses is an incredible satisfying experience. Notice the various sensations in your body. Notice smells and tastes. See if you can pay attention to hearing, breathing and really notice things that are around you. Mindfulness is a way of fully inhabiting the space where our bodies are already at. See if you can be more in tune with the sensory experience that you are having from moment to moment, rather than ignoring all of this because of being too lost in thought. Sometimes we get so lost in thought that a panic attack seems to be the only way our body can get our attention. It doesn’t have to come to this. See if you can tune your mind into being more aware of your sensory experience as you make your way through your day.

And finally, I forgot who said it but I wrote this quote down in my notebook: “If we love the little moments ferociously, than maybe we can learn to live well not in spite of death but because of it. Let death be what takes us, not lack of imagination.”


Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness and Hurt Feelings

No one likes to talk about hurt feelings. I would be willing to bet that we sweep hurt feelings under our proverbial carpets than any other feelings. Look deep within most people and you will find a massive bundle of unresolved and unreleased hurt feelings. Hurt feelings make us feel weak and vulnerable. Hurt feelings are too hard to talk about. Most of us just feel more frustrated and hurt whenever we try to talk to the person who has hurt our feelings. So we stuff our hurt feelings deep down and try to get on with our lives. Unfortunately, this never works.

As teenagers and young adults hurt feelings might manifest as destructive behaviors, uncontrollable rage, rebellion and other forms of acting out. As adults hurt feelings may show up as depression, cynicism, passive aggressiveness, misanthropy, relationship difficulties, chronic stress and anger, chronic pain, anxiety and other feelings of overwhelm. When we are hurt it does not take much to make us scream out in pain. However hurt feelings manifest, my point is that for most people hurt feelings do not go away. Hurt feelings age along with us, forming the basis for who we are and how we see the world. Even though we often just sweep them under the carpet and try to pretend they are not there, hurt feelings can influence almost every aspect of our lives. I know from personal experience. I think I have been learning how to deal with hurt feelings almost as long as I have been alive.

For most of my life I would either express my hurt feelings in fits of rage and self-destructive behaviors or I would become like a rock and completely shut down. More often than not I would keep my hurt feelings to myself but they leaked out in all kinds of passive aggressive ways. Before I began practicing mindfulness, other than repressing or raging, I had no idea what else to do with hurt feelings. What else was there to do? I presume most human beings are in a similar situation and this is why most acts of violence, rage, war and hate are nothing more than unskilled expressions of hurt feelings.

Mindfulness is a practice of generating awareness of what we experience in our consciousness. The good news is that if you are reading this you are conscious. Everything you experience, you experience in your consciousness. Walking, driving, talking, thinking, eating, sitting at your desk, hearing sounds, anxiety, reading, pain in your back, watching television, making love, petting a dog, exercising, sitting in a chair, hearing sounds- all of this is experienced in your consciousness. The moment you are no longer conscious you will not be able to experience any of these things (such as when under anesthesia). But in order to know that you are experiencing all of these things in your consciousness, you have to be aware. If you are not aware, then you don’t know.

Most of us live our lives so deeply entrenched in thoughts and emotions that we are not aware. We fly airplanes, drive cars, cook dinner, work at jobs, talk with people, walk down the street in states of complete unawareness. But just because you are not aware of your awareness, does not mean it is not there. A person who practices meditation is basically practicing becoming aware of their awareness. They are creating some detachment from their identification with thoughts and feelings so that awareness can show up. Once you spend any significant amount of time practicing meditation you realize that awareness is like a mirror and thoughts, feelings, sensations and sounds are like objects appearing in the mirror. We know that the objects appearing in the mirror are not the mirror, they are just transient reflections temporarily appearing. In meditation we are practicing watching these objects as they come and go.

When we become more aware we are able to notice how thoughts and feelings are always coming and going, coming and going. Continually. If we are aware of thoughts and feelings we are able to avoid becoming so deeply identified with them (and then suffering the consequences). We can notice the hurt feeling or the negative thought appearing in our awareness but then let them move through and gradually dissolve. Like an object appearing in a mirror we can avoid becoming identified with the hurt feeling. For example, when we see ourselves reflected in a mirror we do not think that we are the mirror. We realize that we are just an object being reflected by the mirror. Same with feelings and thoughts. If we are able to be aware of thoughts and feelings that arise within our inner space, we can also let the thoughts and feelings come and go. We do not have to be identified with them if we don’t want to. We do have a choice.

Ideally you want to be able to be aware of a hurt feeling the moment that it arises in you. Hurt feelings are really sticky and if we are not aware that they are there often they will consume us. If we are able to be aware that the hurt feeling is there and if we can notice the hurt feeling in the same way that we notice an object appearing in a mirror, we will also be able to notice how the hurt feeling gradually dissolves. All feelings and thoughts are continually arising and then dissolving away. Every single one. When practicing mindfulness we are cultivating the ability to be aware of thoughts and feelings as they arise and dissolve away rather than letting our lives be dominated, shaped and messed up by negative thoughts and hurt feelings.

I still experience hurt feelings, but now I notice them. “There is a hurt feeling Randall,” I tell myself and then without reacting to it, I remain aware and just watch the hurt feeling as it gradually dissolves away. I wish someone would have taught me this when I was 15! I could have avoided many holes in the wall, bouts of bitter drunkenness and days or weeks spent in complete emotional shutdown! It feels like this is what is meant by that term emotional intelligence, this ability to be mindful of when hurt feelings arise and then remain mindful as the hurt feeling dissolves away and is totally released within ten minutes or so. Gone. And then I go on with my day without sore knuckles. Who would have thought?

How To Escape Future Shock

Our nerves are fried. It does not take much to trigger us into a full blown freak out. We live in what the cultural studies writer Hal Niedzviecki calls a permanent state of anxiety and stress, a steady state of fear and worry. Change is a natural part of life, but in our society today we are experiencing change at a speed that has never been seen before in human civilization. We fear our inability to embrace this change, to be able to take advantage of all the change and as a result we worry that we will be left behind. We fear that we will not be able to get a handle on the future, that we will slip away into extinction. Fear of future failure plagues us in ways we may not even be aware of. One of the main ways is that it takes from us the sense of security, safety and constancy that occurs when living in the present moment.

In their 1970’s best selling book, Future Shock, Alvin and Heidi Toffler captured the feeling of a society that was in transition. They defined future shock as, “the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” In 1970 the Tofflers believed that future shock was a real sickness, which increasingly large numbers suffered from. They called it the disease of rapid technological change. This was forty-five years ago! Imagine, what would they think about the kind of future shock we are experiencing today?

I believe that our racing minds, minds that are continually churning out uncontrollable negative thoughts, uncontrollable anxious thoughts about the future (which, by the way is a main symptom of living in a permanent state of anxiety and stress), is future shock. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, in any twelve month period, 18% of the United States population is struggling with some form of an aggressive anxiety disorder. Major depressive disorder plagues up to 17% of the United States population! Never before has the United States seen such high levels of mental illness. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the suicide rates among Americans aged thirty-five to sixty-four have increased 28.4% between 1999 and 2010. It appears obvious that all of this innovative change, which most of us more than willingly embrace without question, is in no way good for our mental health.

In his book Trees On Mars, Our Obsession With The Future, Hal Niedzviecki writes about a recent study that was done by Scientists at Yale University. This study revealed that chronic stress and worry actually reduces the brains ability to make an important protein called neuritin. In the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ronald Duman, a neurobiologist at Yale, and his team report that, “Neuritin produces antidepressant actions and blocks the neuronal and behavioral deficits caused by chronic stress.” When we get too anxious or stressed out our brain stops making as much neuritin. “Once again biology trumps ideology,” writes Niedzviecki. “Our brain’s health depends on a certain level of stability, the knowledge that what happens tomorrow will be pretty similar to what happened yesterday.” (The italics are mine.) This is what I refer to as present moment awareness. Mindfulness.

Today we live with the continually looming sense of the future. We spend most of our time thinking about it and living for it. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans had very little sense of future (and past). Instead we lived in what is referred to as the continual present. Time as we experience it today (past, present, future), is a very recent development in the history of human beings. This is why our minds are literally incapable of absorbing future shock. “We evolved to survive and perpetuate, and this process requires stability,” writes Niedzviecki. “The entire psychological framework of human beings is fundamentally about achieving and maintaining stable environments and social conditions. Without the stability, the brain gives up trying to keep up. Our minds are throwing in the towel, waving the white flag.”

Living in a state of permanent anxiety, depression and stress is what happens when our brain has thrown in the towel. It is important that we realize that as much as we may feel like we need to be doing so, chasing the future isn’t helping us. In fact the opposite is proving true- it is killing us. As someone who works in the field of mental health and encounters this crisis everyday, I believe that it is so important that we become aware of future shock and begin to create for ourselves and our families what the Tofflers called personal stability zones. Forty-five years ago the Tofflers talked about cultivating “de-stimulating tactics” and “direct coping abilities” in order to better deal with and survive future shock. Forty-five years later we talk about the same thing, but now call it mindfulness and meditation.

It is by cultivating present moment awareness (the continual present) that our brains can begin to re-stabilize and return to their optimal, biological and evolutionary functioning. Our brains were not biologically designed to deal with as much rapid change as we are experiencing today. It has never been more crucial for our mental and physical health that we make the effort to counteract the high speed forces of change with more present moment awareness (less attention to the future, which always seems to be pulling at us). Without this effort to be more present, there is no question that the steady state of fear, anxiety, worry, depression and/or stress that we experience is a direct result of future shock.