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Taking Mindfulness to the Next Level

What is Mindfulness, Really?

I define mindfulness as "nonjudgmental, focused attention."

Often, people are taught mindfulness by focusing on the present, such as the sensations of drinking a cup of tea: the smell, the taste, the warmth. Mindfulness focused on the breath is a common practice.

Because this is so relaxing, it can become a method of escape. But notice: when you use mindfulness to escape your feelings, you are judging! You are deciding it is bad to experience unpleasant feelings.

Mindfulness on Unpleasant Feelings

While no one enjoys unpleasant feelings, learning to sit with them mindfully is one of the most powerful skills you can learn to further your emotional life.

Start small. When you have an unpleasant feeling and can carve out a few minutes, use your mindfulness skills to notice the emotion in your body. Be sure NOT to keep your thoughts running in circles. Settle into what the emotion feels like.

This tends to be very unpleasant at first. There’s a reason why we have the urge to run! Try using a mantra as you sit with your experience of the moment. Here are some options:

  • “This too, shall pass.” Make sure to say this without urgency. You are simply reminding yourself of the transient nature of feelings. As you sit with them, they may intensify, but sooner or later, they relax. Keep watching. Sit with them.

  • “Allow.” Repeating something gently like “allow” or “notice” reminds you to not push away the feelings and just be with them. This helps you stay with your experience for the duration of your mindfulness exercise.

  • “Be gentle with myself. I’m human.” Often when sitting with our feelings, we believe we should be above it or be able to “get over it.” We can, but not by avoiding it! Reminding yourself to be gentle helps you drop your self- judgments so you can truly be mindful.

Be Kind to You! Remember that hurt feelings are a part of you. They ache to be heard and they know when you deny that part of yourself. When you sit mindfully (without judgment!) with that hurt part of you, on some level your mind will feel the acceptance as you extend yourself compassion.

As you practice, you’ll gain more confidence in your ability to sit with feelings and more certainty that they will not stay forever. When the storms of life hit, this is a powerful practice. You will no longer be using mindfulness to run, but rather to heal.

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