Friday, February 5, 2016

Mini Mindfulness: Daily Practice Standing Up to the Rebel Mind

[Photo Credit:]

You've decided in advance how you'd like to handle things, but then in the heat of the moment the brain goes rogue and drags the rest of you along for the ride. 
  • "Better to sleep another hour than go running in this cold weather." 
  • "The donuts are gone but there's one last maple bar in the box. Can't let it go to waste." 
  • "The image is a alluring woman in a swimsuit but the link description sounds innocent enough. It's probably fine." 
  • "There's no end to their dawdling at bedtime. Time to bark out orders, swat behinds, and pull them by the arm to their bedrooms."
Of course it's important to resolve to handle situations like these differently the next time they come up. But we can do more than that. We can practice standing up to the rebel mind when the stakes aren't as high. 

Standing up to the mind is what mindfulness meditation is all about. Incorporating mini meditations into your routine guarantees that you'll get some practice doing so on a daily basis. 

To experience a mini mindfulness session:
  • Set the timer on your phone for one minute. 
  • Pay attention to your breath. As you inhale attend to the air coming in through your nostrils or the feeling of your lungs filling up or the sensation of your chest, shoulders, or tummy rising. 
  • Then focus on the sensations that go with exhaling. 
  • When (not if) your mind starts to wander, tell yourself "Back to the breath" and attend to your breathing again. 
  • When the timer on your phone goes off, you're done. 
When I explained to one my clients how to do this she said, "So the goal is to stay focused on your breathing?" In a way, yes. That's certainly what you're attempting to do. But don't be disappointed or feel like you're doing it wrong when that doesn't happen. The mind is like a puppy dog, always losing interest in one thing and bounding off to play with something else that caught her eye. The real goal of the exercise is to catch the rebellious puppy dog mind in the act of dropping one intention and getting caught up in another. Usually we have several chances to do that in a minute. Whenever we catch the mind wandering and gently tell it "back to the breath," we're letting it know that we're in charge. We're standing up to it and in the process proving to it that a lot of what it thinks it needs to focus on or take care of or figure out is just an illusion. 

I once guided my client, Elise, through a five minute version of this exercise while she was holding her baby. I set my alarm and we started. As soon as I closed my eyes I thought, "Little Ella has been so good during this session because Elise and I have both been engaging with her and talking to her throughout our conversation. But she's going to get bored right away now that Elise and I are quiet and closing our eyes. I'd better interrupt this mindfulness exercise just long enough to tell Elise, if you need to pause what we're doing to take care of Ella, go ahead. Then I realized that this was actually the perfect opportunity to stand up to my bossy mind. I simply said to myself, "back to the breath." As it turned out, Ella was fine. Partway through the five minutes she started cooing to herself, having a great time. I smiled and thought, "Wow, I let go of my need to manage Ella's experience, and she's doing just fine without my help. I wonder how many of the other things in life that I'm so sure I need to control would turn out just fine without my help. Then I realized I'd wandered off on this thought and told myself, "back to the breath." 

We fail at mindfulness when the mind wanders off and we get so caught up in the thought or bought into its importance that we never come "back to the breath." But besides that, there is no failure. There's no maximum number of times we can gently redirect our mind back. We're building the muscle of our mental discipline whether we do so twice or ten times. 

Sometimes, in the middle of a mindfulness session, the mind arrives at a strange place. It fully accepts that there is truly no need at all to pursue any of the lines of thinking it usually finds compelling, at least for this moment. And we taste a level of peace that can be quite illusive in our lives of busyness and overstimulation.

You can see why, practiced regularly, mindfulness is a kick-but way to strengthen our ability to abstain from addictive behavior.

Have you ever tried mindfulness? Has it aided your recovery? 

Take the time to try out some mini mindfulness sessions over the next few days and let us know what you discover.

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