“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.” – Hippocrates
Last week, we explored the notion that thoughts aren’t facts, in “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Week Six.” We often get so caught up in our own internal chatter and drama that we can easily forget to pause and reflect on the validity of our thoughts. When mindfulness is not applied to our internal cognitive processes, it is not surprising when we get carried away by different thoughts… jumping around from one worry to the next. Mindfulness allows us to step back from those thoughts and examine them with greater awareness and sensitivity. When we do this, we often feel less of an extreme emotional pull to take immediate action on our thoughts… they become less powerful.
Has it been difficult for you to begin to cultivate a different relationship with your thoughts? Many people don’t consider the value in reflecting on and questioning their thoughts with mindful awareness. This is unfortunate, since unquestioning servitude to the internal chatter of the mind is guaranteed to result in faulty, hasty, and impulsive decision-making from time to time. The good news is that each present moment affords us all with the opportunity to develop a different relationship with our internal experience. You can make the choice in this moment to start noticing thoughts and emotions as they arise, rather than acting impulsively.
As you near the end of your eight-week experience with MBSR, take a moment to reflect on any changes that you have noticed. Even if you have not managed to dedicate consistent or regular practice each day, thank yourself for whatever time you have dedicated to cultivating mindfulness. Notice any positive changes in your demeanor, attitude, or way of being in the world. If you notice something positive, no matter how small, ask yourself how willing you are to continue to practice mindfulness in some form as you move forward in life. This can be as simple as making the commitment to yourself that you will notice your experience with greater openness, awareness, and acceptance. Small changes can lead to big shifts over time.
MBSR Week Seven: Taking Care of Yourself
The activities that you choose to engage in day in and day out have a dramatic cumulative effect on your overall health and psychological well being. Your habits and behaviors have a direct impact on how you think and feel… physically and emotionally. Take a moment to pause and consider what behaviors you regularly engage in. Do you tend to act in ways that result in your feeling better (physically and emotionally) or worse?
We all have a finite supply of physical, mental and emotional energy at any given time. When you choose to engage in behaviors that deplete your energy resources, the results can include physical tiredness, mental cloudiness, and emotional distress. We all do things from time to time that are not truly in our best interest, and we may feel worse in some way later on as a result. The trick is to begin to really notice what you do… notice what benefits you get in the moment and in the long run… and notice the consequences.
Just as we are all capable of doing things that make us feel exhausted or depleted, we are equally capable of engaging in behaviors that restore our energy, sanity, and health. Notice times when you feel especially drained in some way. These are the times when it is particularly important for you to take a “time out” and restore your health.
MBSR Week Seven: Practices
This week, make the choice to become more mindful of the behaviors that you actually do… not the behaviors you would like to practice. The best of intentions mean very little with no action to back them up. Be honest with yourself about what you really do. Notice the ways in which your behaviors provide you with immediate reinforcement and pay attention to the long-term consequences of those behaviors. Are they really worth it? If you feel drained physically, mentally, or emotionally, this is a sign that you may receive important benefits from purposeful self-care activities.
Recall the basic mindfulness practices that you have engaged in over the course of your experience with MBSR. You will continue to practice many of those same mindfulness activities, with a particular focus on how your behaviors are impacting your overall well being.
- Choose any formal mindfulness meditation that you particularly enjoy (guided sitting meditation, mindfulness in motion, or body scan meditation) and practice one of these or some combination of these each day for 45 minutes. Direct purposeful attention to how these activities directly impact your physical, mental, and emotional well being.
- Continue to practice the “3 Minute Breathing Space” exercise each day. Practice this brief mindfulness exercise during additional times when you notice yourself feeling drained in some way… use this activity as a way of restoring energy and well being.
- Develop a “stress warning system” in your MBSR journal. Write down specific warning signs that you tend to experience when you are under stress. This might mean feeling irritable and snapping at people in your life or behaving impatiently in some way. When you become more mindfully aware of your personal warning signs or triggers, you can use this as an opportunity to slow down and engage in activities designed to reduce stress.
Use your MBSR experience this week as a special opportunity to become more tuned in to your own well being. Notice what behaviors you choose to engage in during each present moment. Pause to ask yourself if what you are about to do or are currently doing is going to likely result in you feeling drained or restored. Make behavioral choices with greater mindfulness, taking full responsibility for the consequences of your actions. Mindfulness and responsibility can unlock personal freedom in your life.
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Next week, I will explore the practices involved with the final week of our MBSR journey, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Week Eight – “Reflection and Change.”
This article is not intended to be a substitute for therapy or MBSR as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This article is intended to introduce you to the basic concepts of MBSR that you can practice in your daily life. If you are interested in exploring MBSR in greater depth, you can explore an online course or a directory of MBSR classes worldwide.
Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Featured image: If the human race wishes to have a prolonged… by Abby Lanes / CC BY-ND 2.0