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.”

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My Anxiety Attack

We all have certain emotions and thoughts that we would be happy to never see again. Judgmental thoughts, worried thoughts, self-doubting thoughts, bitter thoughts, fear-filled thoughts and dissatisfied thoughts are probably thoughts that we would all rather never have. Emotional states like terror, boredom, depression, despair, panic, general unhappiness/stress and anxiety are also probably emotional states that we would give away for free at the first opportunity to do so. For me the one that I would like to just leave on the curb for someone else to come pick up and take away, is anxiety.

I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I remember continually freaking out in my father’s single engine airplane as we went on our Sunday “trips.” When I was in my mid-twenties my anxiety evolved into episodes of full-blown panic attacks that caused me to rush to the emergency room way too many times. For a period of time, people who worked in the Emergency Room knew me as the guy who would stand outside the Emergency Room, “just in case.” Sometimes a nurse would even come outside with a cup of herbal tea or water for me to drink. A certain ambulance driver would often given me glucose tablets that were given to people having diabetic or hypoglycemic attacks (they helped!). It was a dark period in my life, the effects of which have yet to completely go away. I think once a person is afflicted with severe panic attacks, no matter how many years go by, any hint of a potential recurrence will trigger an anxiety response in the body and brain.

Anxiety is an emotional state that I have completely accepted as a continual presence in my life. I have had to make friends with anxiety over the years. I did not get it at the time, but in my late twenties, after running out of a small mindfulness meditation class while in mid-meditation, the instructor told me that anxiety was something I would have to befriend and panic was what happened when I could not be friendly with my anxiety. I thought that sounded ridiculous at the time, but I kept coming back to my mindfulness meditation practice so that each time I could learn to sit with the anxiety for a little bit longer. Gradually I was able to make friends with it (meaning not trying to push it away or reacting to it).

Fast forward fifteen plus years and many hours spent learning how to be present with and non-reactive to negative emotional and psychological states. It was Sunday afternoon (a few weeks ago) and I felt like something was very off in my body. I became nervous that something was wrong and my apprehension grew into a state of uncomfortable anxiety when the physical symptoms did not subside. A similar trigger response happened, just like what would happen when I would have panic attacks in my twenties. Now the difference is that I do not go into a state of panic. All the same fight/flight reactions are going on in my body. The same terrifying thoughts are filling my mind but I am able to keep myself from taking off into panic land. I was able to keep bringing myself back to the present moment. Keep following my breathing and remain aware of sounds and my feet touching the ground. This kept my body from going into a complete freak out. It kept my nervous system from spiking too high and gradually, very gradually the anxiety passed and I was fine.

A central premise of mindfulness practice is that all emotional states are impermanent. They will pass if we can remain aware, present and non-reactive. Some anxiety, anger or depression states may last a lot longer than we would like, but just knowing that it will eventually pass and that I will be ok, is what helps me to not go into a reactive state. Phew.

Fortunately, I am not visited by intense anxiety much these days but it is there at a lower level pretty much all the time. Anxiety is a presence that I have accepted in my life and this acceptance has made all the difference. It is just the way it is. I am aware of it, non-reactive to it and no longer trying to “make it go away.”

I feel that a lot of people have been suckered into believing that mindfulness practice (or any kind of self-help or psychological process) will eradicate or take away all of the negative, emotional and psychological states that they struggle with. Good luck. I just don’t believe that is possible. Every single mindfulness teacher I have studied with and read has always talked about how healing or freedom from suffering is about acceptance not fixing or getting rid of.

After decades spent trying to get rid of anxiety I believe that what they talk and write about is true. The closest we have come to being able to “eradicate” negative emotional and psychological states is psychiatric medications, but this still just represses and sedates. It can be very, very helpful for short-term relief but these medications keep whatever negative emotional and psychological states we struggle with hiding out in the corner, just waiting for the medication to wear off so they can come back out. A lot of contemporary research says that psychiatric medications seem to exacerbate or enhance our negative emotional and psychological states once we go off the medications.

I have concluded that the anxiety, depression, existential despair, anger, chronic worry, judgementalness, self-doubt and all the other fun parts of being a human being in the chaotic and stress-filled modern world, do not go away not matter how much we over-work or practice yoga, mindfulness or any self help modality. The way that I teach and practice mindfulness is more based in the practice of accepting what is. When we cultivate the capacity to be present with and non-reactive to whatever negative emotional and psychological states we are experiencing in the moment, they have a less destructive and disturbing presence in our lives. These states become much more manageable.

Yeah, every once in awhile I will get an anxiety attack. Such is the deck of cards I was dealt. We were all dealt a particular deck of cards. The essence of mindfulness is to learn how to become aware of the presence of these undesirable states when they arise and then quickly accept them by remaining as present, aware and as non-reactive as possible. This is why I practice mindfulness meditation even when everything is going good in my life. I know there will come a time when anxiety and other difficulties will show up and I practice for these inevitable times (I also practice so I can be more present and less conflicted in my life when times are good). Like Jon Kabat-Zinn often said during the mindfulness training I took with him: “The more you work on sowing your parachute, the more it will be there for you right when you need it.” This is why I continue to practice mindfulness everyday. Just in case.

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.