How mindfulness changed my world
Before I began practising mindfulness, the world felt like a dangerous, dirty, frightening, menacing, unfriendly and mostly pretty stupid place. I felt confused by too many superficial choices while feeling like I had few real ones. I was looking to the outside world to help me make sense of things, and that was not working out well for me.
From the moment I heard about mindfulness, I didn’t like the sound of it–sitting quietly, possibly just on a cushion with a bunch of strangers and trying to stay focused on my breath? Yeah, right. That was absolutely not for me. However, I was super-stressed out and desperate, and my friend said it helped her. So I went to a retreat kicking and screaming, but I went. And 20 years later, I’m still sitting. Why?
Practising mindfulness has helped me see that “thoughts are not facts”—as was taught to me in the first MBCT course I took at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies. I went through the program, learning the challenging art of “anchoring my attention in the sensations of breathing,” and practising being present to what was happening right now. I was amazed to see that as I learned to become aware of difficult experiences as an amalgam of strong thoughts, physical sensations and hot emotions, I could begin to “name it to tame it” as neuro-psychiatrist Dan Siegel coined. He saw that as test subjects identified what they were thinking or feeling during heightened periods of intensity, their ability to notice the thoughts, physical sensations or emotions actually calmed that centre of the brain down.
I don’t practice every day, but I practice most days. I notice the difference. Practising helps me feel grounded, happier, helps me keep a sense of humour.
As I breathe, seek to be present, smile at strangers, I feel good, but some days are just hard. Mindfulness can’t take that away. Focusing my attention on the rise and fall of my belly I cultivate the ability to stay with what is happening now. The fears and anxieties of the moment are here, but as I stay present I notice I can deal with what’s happening now, far easier than when I also pile on memories from the past and fears about the futures.
It isn’t always easy to be alone with myself, but increasingly I’m coming to like it. To like me. I see that I’m OK. And as I continue to come back to the breath, to the present moment, my ability to be OK in difficult situations has strengthened. And that’s pretty good.
I have found that the ability to be more present has gradually put a different spin on the world. For the most part, I now experience the world as a lovely, Technicolor place full of everything imaginable.