The mind wants to wander. That’s what it does and it does it well. However, like a ship on the ocean waves the turbulence of constant motion can be disrupting to any sense of well-being. We need a way to anchor the mind in the moment, a place to return when the mind inevitably wanders, a place of stability.
We want something to ground our attention in the here and now. At any moment we have one thing that is always with us- the breath. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly breathing. By bringing our attention to the breath we are rooting ourselves (and our attention) in the moment.
Here is a video about using the breath as an anchor:
Important Note: Your mind will wander. You will probably think a lot. It’s alright! Just come back to the breath again and again and again……… We will have more on ways to be nonjudgemental with ourselves and practice heartfulness in upcoming posts.
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On May 1 Possibilities Exist is taking this to a new level. The effects practicing mindfulness can be thought of like a drop of water in a bucket. Gradually the bucket will fill up.
But as a Science teacher and a person who wants to maximize the benefits I wanted to figure out how to fill the bucket more. That is where InterChange comes in!
Since mindfulness is interpersonal and can support the building of community I wanted to find a way to not only measure mindfulness on a personal level but also how the ripple effect of the positivity can affect others.
InterChange is about maximizing the effects of our personal mindfulness practice to make a huge difference in the world. Stay tune for May 1 roll out!
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to establishing a mindfulness practice is, well, ourselves. Our mind believes and responds well to the words we tell it, especially negative ideas. Negative thoughts such as, “I can’t do this,” “I can’t stop thinking,” “I’m doing this wrong” serve to only keep us from getting the most out of the practice. But, let the frustration flow and go because almost without fail those ideas will arise at some point in your practice.
One way to understand how we can get caught up in old ways of thinking/actions while also having hope that possibilities exist for a different way through mindfulness practice is to image our brains like a super highway.
When we have a thought neurons fire in the brain creating a pathway. Over years of thinking and acting in a certain way we strengthen the path so that more and more neurons can gain easier access through our brain. Very much like a super highway, roadways are created so that cars can pass. Highways are developed to let more cars gain easier access to get to where they need to get to more quickly.
While these super highways can be beneficial in many ways they can also serve to make doing something new or our ability to break a pattern of thinking/behavior somewhat challenging. However, no matter how small the change in our thinking or actions does make a difference. Trying to think or act differently automatically develops an on off ramp for the super highway running through our brain. This new pathway is small compared to the well established path we have used for years. When we encounter the next situation our neurons want to take the easiest, fastest path (the super highway). It takes intentional effort to redirect the neurons to the off ramp.
Practicing mindfulness helps us develop new pathways in the brain. Our thoughts will surely try to follow the super highway that has been laid again and again. The task is to continue to come back to the new pathway. Over time what was once a small rut in the road, will become a dirt road, then a two lane highway, and finally, if we persist with the practice of mindfulness over years we will develop another super highway which may overlay the old pathway. This gives our neurons an alternate route to process information and helps shape our perceptions of ourselves and the world in a new way. Ultimately, there is hope in consistent effort and kindness toward oneself. A little mindfulness practice each day goes a long way in creating a positive super highway through our brains.
In the midst of a stressful day that just seems like it won’t end, I stop for just a second, take an easy breath, and say quietly to myself, “I am grateful for………” The situation dictates what that list of 3 things is. Whatever the list, this practice has become a life safer.
My children have experienced the same. Imagine this: the family is sitting at the table. Everyone is irritable. The dad has had a long day dealing with other kids climbing the walls and throwing chairs at him at public school, the mom has had a long day dealing with kids climbing the walls and moving furniture, the 15 year old son feels like an alien in his own skin and the 7 year old hasn’t slept well because she sleep walks (which means nobody slept well). Everyone is biting at each other, short and there is so much wrong in the world by the sound of everyone at the table. Then, the mom says, “What are you grateful for?” Begrudgingly someone starts. Soon everyone has listed at least 3 things each is grateful for. While the world did not shift, the attitudes did slightly.
Gratitude is a mindfulness practice of identifying the things we can be thankful for in the moment. The practice is not about deceiving ourselves. Even when things are all seeming to collapse around us we can find things that may help change our perspective. We have all heard the scenario of seeing the glass as half full or half empty. The glass and the amount of water in it has not changed. What changes is how we see it.
Finding things to be thankful for is a practice. That means it may not come easy at first. My kids often say, “I am grateful for everything.” While that may be correct, we need to know how to most effectively use our gratitude.
Some Gratitude Guidelines
- Make it specific- while we may be grateful for everything if we can’t name something individually then we probably are not really that thankful. Pick something to focus that goodwill toward.
- Make sure it is something in the moment- my kids struggle with this one so much. They are thankful for going to Disneyworld 4 years ago or grateful for the ice cream they are going to get in 2 hours. Mindfulness is about being in the moment- not living in the past or future. We all want to escape but to get the most out of this practice it needs to be present time.
- Start each sentence with “I am grateful for………” or “I am grateful that……”- naming each thing this way makes a profound change.
- No negative- make sure to keep it positive. If you happen to go negative, it is just an opportunity to practice turning things around.
- Be easy with yourself and your kids- start small and work your way into this practice. It is a change in thinking. Be kind to yourself. But do it!
Gratitude is about changing our perspective. Some speak of this process as “changing the lens through which we see the world.” However we look at it gratitude can have a significant affect on our resiliency, our ability to bounce back from struggles. As a science teacher I know that the glass is not either half full or half empty. It is completely full! Actually it overflows- water and air. As a person who practices mindfulness, my experience is the same. The glass is neither half empty or half full- it is completely full when I practice gratitude.