A Piece of Mind for Your Peace of Mind: Living With Mindfulness | Mindfulness Rewrites

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Piece of Mind for Your Peace of Mind: Living With Mindfulness

     by Dr. Linda Miles

A Piece of Mind for Your Peace of Mind: Living With MindfulnessCan you recall the last time you heard the warbling birds piercing the sky with their vibrant notes of song? You’ve heard it, but you’ve made birdsong a background noise. When did you last consciously listen?

Did you see and acknowledge the kind smile of the person who held the elevator for you, or who opened the door for you, or who stopped his car so you could safely cross the road?

When your loved ones, friends, or co-workers excitedly relate their accomplishments or experiences, how do you react? Do you genuinely share in their happiness? Do you allow their contagious emotions to affect you?

When someone speaks to you, do you actively listen? Do you fully engage in conversations? Do you let yourself live in the moment?

The words “consciously,” “allow,” and “let” are not coincidental in the above lines.

All too often, we are so caught up in the everyday tempest of activity and routine, we lose sight of our purpose. We lose sight of the meaning we’ve assigned to life. We forget that each day could be our last day — for if we knew this, and we had a choice, surely we’d spend the “last day” differently. We forget to live and so we merely survive, going through the motions.

There is nothing sadder than this throwing away of our liberty to live life to the fullest. But as sad as it is, it’s just as easy to reconnect with our innermost selves and realign our lives with purpose and joy — as long as we decide that we want to.

In his book A Simple Heart, French novelist Gustave Flaubert examines the life of a maid named Felicite, who would appear to have an insignificant job and humdrum life. Flaubert wrote the book during an era when servitude was popular. He crafted Felicite as an extremely poor young woman who enduring great hardships before being employed by a well-to-do family. Flaubert breaks through biases and assumptions to delve into Felicite’s mind and reveal to his readers a rich inner world that, initially, may seem oxymoronic or ironic given Felicite’s situation and lifestyle. She is described as a kind-hearted and loving soul, with deep gratitude for the little and simple things in life. Everyday situations rouse her soul and cause her to display traits of tenderness and a deep reverence for life.

Flaubert basically illuminates the concept that we make our own sunshine; that happiness is an inside job; that a place doesn’t make a person -— it is the person who makes a place.

As a psychotherapist, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to experience stories of people from all walks of life. When I used to perform psychological testing for a back rehabilitation program, I had the pleasure of meeting a man with Felicite’s mindset. He’d endured poverty and suffered from a severe back injury due to many years of physical labor. Yet his inner world was pure and his disposition shed sunrays wherever he went. Like Felicite, he was extremely low-profile and easily overlooked, yet his inner world was very rich and filled with appreciation for the experience of the present moment.

I’ve noted the opposite scenario with many of my clients as they come with questions about why they feel unhappy despite their material success. Happiness cannot be bought. It is not composed of tangible things. It is not even composed of exterior things. Happiness springs from our inner world. Once they realize this — that they find happiness by creating it themselves — my clients unleash a newfound power: the ability to create happiness; the ability to be happy.

The Felicites of the world are invaluable individuals, and they have much to teach us. They have found the key to happiness — that “secret” that so many books and movies and schools of thought chase — and they’ve unlocked the door that leads to their better selves. They live by the “NOW” principle:

  • NOTICE. To notice, in this context, means to be aware. But it’s about empathy as much as is it about attention and focus. Felicite had the willingness to put herself in other people’s shoes, to share in their triumphs and tribulations, and to emotionally become attuned to their feelings and experiences.

  • OPPORTUNITIES. Felicite created opportunities to feel deep connection and compassion. There is a scene where she experiences the first Communion of a child named Virginie, who is under Felicite’s care. Felicite imagines herself in Virginie’s shoes, receiving Communion, and she shares in the child’s experience of profound wonder and spirituality.

  • WITHIN. Though Felicite’s life may have seemed, to an impartial outsider, like a shabby canvas of poverty and drudgery, her inner world was anything but! It was rich and vibrant; she lived life to the fullest, and thus her life was fulfilling.

This is done through mindfulness.

“If you want to be happy, be.”
                                                                           –Leo Tolstoy

What is mindfulness, exactly? How does it work? Mindfulness enables us to accept what is, and reminds us of what’s right. It is the ability to embrace the present, to experience and express gratitude, and to delve deep into the heart of an issue and its ensuing solution.

You begin by paying attention to yourself. How do you feel? What are you thinking about? You are able to condition and alter your behavior and your mindset, but first you must define it. Begin to notice the voices in your head, objectively, as you would eavesdrop on a conversation. Do you speak kindly or harshly to yourself? Note your thoughts, without judgement. See them as words written on the whiteboard of your mind, then visualize yourself picking up an eraser and wiping them away. Imagine a clean board, and then fill it with kinder words instead.

Take five minutes each day. Just sit quietly and notice your thoughts. Let them flit freely through your mind. You’ll notice how your thoughts and reactions have been conditioned. You’ll notice what triggers them. You’ll notice how your body reacts, like when it becomes more tense or your breathing quickens after a negative train of thought.

The purpose of this practice isn’t to make you a passive observer. You are just taking in the information, first. Once you see what triggers things, you’ll be able to step in and change them. Seize each opportunity to do so. You can hit pause, rewind, and remake the movie in your mind. And, with enough practice, you’ll be able to play the movie positively the first time around. Guide yourself so that your thoughts become constructive, rather than destructive. Nurture your soul and well-being by practicing gratitude. Instead of looking at what’s going wrong, turn your mind’s eye—at least for a moment, right now—and focus on what’s going right.

I promise that you’ll be amazed at all you’ll see.

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”       
                                                                            –Abraham Lincoln

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