Paul Ashton, Psy.D., D.Min
Consultant to the VIRTUS Programs
Who among us is not overwhelmed with the fast paced technological society that demands of us more time and attention than
we have to give? Who among us does not see that we are living in a time of both great blessings and challenging woes? Who among us does not seek to find the perfect solution to balance books, articles, diets, classes and transformative programs? If this article does anything, it will give you cause to stop, pause and be mindful about your life-if only for 15 minutes. And 15 minutes is a lot of time! So, turn off everything and unplug for the next 15 minutes...can you do it? Will the world continue without answering calls, emails and texts? Time will tell...
We all deal with stressors that are the unpleasant or potentially harmful things happening in the environment we operate in. Stress is the physical, mental and emotional response to these stressors. All of us have many stressors in our lives; how we manage these dictates the amount of stress that we cope with. Linking all of the stressors together is a dangerous habit that can be overwhelming. It chains us to stress in ways that are largely our own doing. How we respond to stressors can make a world of difference in our lives.
Grief touches grief, and our lives are filled with losses-death separates us from the ones we love, and the loss of a job, a rift in a friendship, diminished health, and even the decreased amount of time we have left from our demanding day, are all losses that can mount up. It is easily tempting to link these losses, grief and stressors together, instead of taking each incident as it comes and dealing with it in the best way possible.
Studies show that those who take time to meditate, pray and to be mindful experience the same amount of stressors as others, but their stress overall is decreased. Some stress is even a positive influence in our lives. Eustress is positive stress that gives us an extra burst of adrenaline to help us accomplish goals and meet deadlines. Eustress provides mental alertness, motivation and efficiency. Eustress can increase self-esteem-it is indicated by hope and active engagement. Distress, on the other hand, is negative stress that occurs when your body cannot return to a relaxed state, even in the absence of the stressor.
So, we know not to link stressors, and link them one by one into a big chain of stress. How can we manage this? Being mindful is the answer. What is mindfulness? "It is an awareness that emerges through paying careful attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). It is all the non-judgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise (Baer, 2003). It is keeping one's complete attention to the experience on a moment to moment basis (Martlett & Kristeller, 1999)" [Living Well].
"…Mindfulness is as simple as becoming aware of your here and now experience, both internally and in the external world. It gives you a space in the present moment to be able to more safely deal with the distressing and painful memories that might have happened to you in the past. It allows you to look at and plan for the future, even when you might have fearful thoughts about things that haven't yet happened, from a secure position of knowing that you are in the present moment" (Ibid).
Living Well is an excellent online resource that does a superb job describing the benefits of mindfulness and offers several opportunities for mindful exercises that are really helpful to those starting out in this practice. The website describes that it is "…easier to understand something in terms of what it is not. Here are some examples of mindLESSness:
- Breaking things, spilling things, clumsiness, accidents because of carelessness, inattention or thinking about something else.
- Failing to notice subtle or not-so-subtle feelings of physical discomfort, pain, tension etc.
- Forgetting someone's name as soon as you hear it.
- Listening to someone with one ear while doing something else at the same time.
- Getting so focused on goals that I lose touch with what I am doing right now.
- Getting lost in my thoughts and feelings.
- Being preoccupied with the future or the past.
- Eating without being aware of eating.
- Having periods of time where you have difficulty remembering the details of what happened-running on autopilot.
- Reacting emotionally in certain ways-feeling like an emotion just "came out of nowhere".
- Daydreaming or thinking of other things when doing chores.
- Doing several things at once rather than focusing on one thing at a time.
- Distracting yourself with things like eating, alcohol, pornography, drugs, work.
- Being mindful, therefore, is the opposite of the above. It is not multi-tasking, because that never works, despite what we all think.
Chopping vegetables and talking on the phone is not such a great idea. Never mind the dangers of texting and doing any other number of things while driving. Very, very few can multitask effectively (the research out there suggests that only 2% of the population can effectively multi-task). Trying to negotiate the dangerous waters of limiting "screen use" with your children is difficult when we, as adults struggle to have healthy relationships with our own mobile devices. It is amazing that everyone I speak with about multi-tasking feels that they are in the 2%!
"Slow me down, Lord" has been a prayer of petition for ages. In today's world, the desire for time to spend with ourselves and our loved ones is quite precious. We all sacrifice much at the altar of work. Being mindful of the things we do each day is a beginning to slowing down. It is an answer to our own prayers.
In an article by Carolyn Gregoire entitled 13 Things Mindful People Do Differently Every Day, she provides a perfect recipe for mindfulness. "Here are 13 things mindful people actually do every day to stay calm, centered and attentive to the present moment.
They take walks.
They turn daily tasks into mindful moments.
They pay attention to their breathing.
They know when not to check their phones.
They seek out new experiences.
They get outside.
They feel what they're feeling.
They're conscious of what they put in their bodies and their minds.
They remember not to take themselves so seriously.
They let their minds wander."
May you give yourself the time to accomplish some of these gifts to yourself daily. May you be blessed to live in the sacrament of the present moment.