Love Thy Neighbor Matthew 22:36-40

I feel compelled to write about the recent events in our country. With the shootings of African-American men by police officers caught on tape, the shootings of police officers in Dallas and the bitter political climate, I’m left with a plethora of emotions. I’ve gone from anger to fear; from sadness to apathy; from hopelessness to optimism. And back again to anger.

I’m not sure what you think or feel about the recent happenings, but I am certain you think and feel something. This got me thinking. I am fortunate to live in a diverse neighborhood. I love seeing the different colors of skin, the assorted culture and the intertwinement of ethnicities. My walking partner and close friend is Caucasian (I’m not!) and we can walk and discuss our lives, husbands, families, work and religion with no difficulty.

One thing I noticed however, is that with all that I have been feeling and thinking, I’ve only been able to talk about these emotions with my family or African-American friends. And the only people that have opened up to me about their feelings about racism and the current environment are people who look like me. My church and my work placed are filled with people that look like me and with people that don’t. Even in these environments I haven’t had one conversation about #blacklivesmatter, police shootings or anything pertaining to these topics with someone who is not African-American. This disturbs me. How can I feel so connected on so many levels with those around me that are different, yet on this topic, we stay clear of each other?…………….

Most Christians, if asked, would be able to answer the question, what is the greatest commandment? Well, if you’re unsure, here is the answer. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, He says this: To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Then Jesus offers up a freebie, even though He wasn’t asked. He goes on the say that the second greatest commandment is just like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

I can’t help but think that we as a people, as a nation, are not doing well in keeping these commandments. Jesus is so right (of course!) that the first and most important is to love God with all we are and all we have. And that there is nothing else we can do in obedience to God without this – including loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our relationships with those around us cannot be right if our relationship with God isn’t right. All of our efforts to be united, peaceful and unbiased towards one another will fail if our foundation isn’t the rooted in the greatest commandment.

This doesn’t mean we have to agree. It doesn’t mean we have to understand. It means that we have to be willing to hear each other. Why don’t we engage in these conversations with each other? Fear? Lack of understanding? Anxiety over saying something you might want to take back? .

There are many problems in this country, including racism, classism, ignorance, abuse of power, hatred and the list goes on and on. And there are so many proposals as to how to go about changing this. I believe that if we truly lived according to these commandments, we could erase all these prejudice. And it would start with us being comfortable enough, loving each other enough, to engage in conversation with one another about sensitive matters.

I welcome any and everyone who would like to discuss anything with me. I promise to listen with the intent to hear and not with the intent to reply, criticize or force my views. Can you do the same?

I am recovering from PTNS!

I must begin by making a confession today.  I have had symptoms of PTNS (Post Traumatic News Syndrome).  I am self-diagnosed and self-medicated, which goes against everything that I believe in the way of treatment of the mind or body.  First, let me let you in on how this syndrome was triggered and subsequently named by me.  As a child, adolescent and even college student I received current event assignments.  Back then (I am Gen X), we were asked to watch the news, and cut out articles in the newspaper or magazines and then write a summary to prove we understood the content.  This was considered socially responsible education and foundational to becoming a productive, and educated member of society, of which I am!

Fast forward to the millennial and I began to recoil from the news in most forms as it had become for me assaultive, draining, and divisive, diluted as well as embellished (interesting how it can be diluted and embellished, huh?). The images and constant inundation of negative stories and frightening themes replayed every 7 minutes, re-tweeted, posted, shared and liked had begun to saturate my mind and honestly, I felt this depressive spirit of hopelessness that was pressing down on me and those around me about the condition of the world.

That is where my PTSN was born.  My sleep was disturbed.  I found myself avoiding live television, and social media. Some of the images replayed over and over in my mind.  I began to question my safety and the safety of friends, family and the world. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is imperative to be aware of the things taking place in the world, nation, city, and my neighborhood as what you don’t know can hurt you or put you in harm’s way.  But, how do I encourage the hope in people whose everyday lives are mini versions of ISIS (toxic family relationships), prejudice (biases of any kind..you name it), political turmoil (children’s class ranking or career building challenges) which I believe is part of my calling, when I myself was trying to reconnect to hope?

So, I called a time-out! I purposely and unapologetically turned off the noise of the news.  I decided that I needed to limit the time that I watched the news to once a day. If the story was on a loop, I only watched it once and then turned it off.  I recognized that reading the news was less intrusive than watching, so I watched reputable news outlets.  I started paying attention to how I was feeling during or after watching/reading.  I determined that if I was feeling overwhelmed that I in fact was overwhelmed.  After acknowledging my feelings and even sitting with them for a bit, I would choose an activity that was restorative, uplifting or restful.  I reached for the things that settled my heart, mind and spirit.  I reactivated the activities that brought my body back into a state of homeostasis.  For me that was praying, reading and becoming mindfully observant of all of the good around me (of which there is MUCH!).  I went to the doctor and took my blood pressure meds correctly, engaged in more mindful food consumption and yes exercise too!  I connected to people who were aware of the current state of things and looking for positive ways to make changes.  I talked about my distress to those who were safe (non-judgmental). I became purposeful about being a part of solutions instead of just asking questions and recounting what I heard.  I focused on the needs of those that I had the privilege of interacting with, so that they could feel my hope for them and become hopeful in spite of their circumstance. My spirit lifted.  I spoke words of encouragement and found people responding to it.  You see, I believe that we all want a peaceful, fruitful, existence and most of all to give and receive love in its many forms.

So the thought that I leave with you is that the choice is ours on what we allow to saturate our minds, bodies, and spirits.  We have to first recognize when we are being affected by what we watch, hear or listen to, become aware of how we are feeling and then decide how we will respond to it.  Isn’t that what we want our children to learn?  I am better attuned to what my needs are in the areas of information and also have incorporated daily positive coping mechanisms to maintain health and balance.  I now consider myself in remission from my Post Traumatic News Syndrome.  Find your way back to hopefulness, positive outlooks and peace.  When you find your way back, then walk someone else down the path.  That’s an impactful way for us to take part in the shift to a world that we all want to live in.

Summer Breeze

Don’t you just love it when one of your favorite songs comes on the radio, especially a song that you haven’t heard in a while? Yet even though it’s been a while, you still remember some if not all of the lyrics, and there are distinct memories attached to the song. That’s what happened to me as I was driving home recently when “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts started playing on the radio… “Summer breeze makes me feel fine, blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind.” As I was happily singing along, warm memories from my youth started replaying in my mind like a movie. For me this sort of thing happens with many classic songs and the theme that runs through them are memories of home and get togethers with family or friends.

It’s interesting that the memories attached to those songs are really simple ones: having a family BBQ in the backyard or going to visit with friends. They weren’t special occasions and did not require elaborate planning. That’s not to say that going to Disney didn’t create spectacular memories, but big trips were usually few and far between. The most plentiful memories were those that simply involved spending time with people we loved.

Reflecting on those memories makes me pause to consider how I spend my time today, and I hope it does the same for you. We live in a fast-paced society, and it is easy to get caught up in the busyness of our schedules. Yet there’s something inside of all of us that longs for a slower pace and being able to spend more time with others. It is in these quiet moments when we scroll through the images of those closest to us and certain feelings and emotions surface. This brings to mind the thought that perhaps our memories are not only fond remembrances of the past but are also gentle reminders of what the future could be.

Three years ago on July 1, 2013, Rolling Stone magazine rated “Summer Breeze” the 13th “Best Summer Song of All Time”. While the song is a classic, may be the reason why it has remained so popular over the years is that it evokes memories of a simpler life with those we love:

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom.

July is dressed up and playing her tune.

And I come home from a hard day’s work

and you’re waiting there not a care in the world.

See the smile a-waitin’ in the kitchen, food cookin’ and the plates for two.

Feel the arms that reach out to hold me in the evening when the day is through.

While it may be idealistic to think that life can be that simple, perhaps there are things we can do, minor adjustments we can make, that will enable us to re-establish or enhance our connections with others. For some may be that means taking every thought captive so that there is time to be deliberate about choices. For others it may mean redefining priorities, asking the question, “Is this still a priority?” Wherever you find yourself, the good news is that making memories does not really require a grand gesture to show how much we care for the other person, but it does require two uncompromising elements: you and your time. So, as you begin clearing your calendar, think about the invitations or opportunities you have passed over. Consider going to lunch with that friend you keep putting off because you’re too busy, invite your neighbor over for a backyard BBQ, or actually go on that date night you and your wife keep talking about. Whatever it is you choose to do, the important thing is to spend time with a loved one because it is during those moments when warm and lasting memories are made.

Getting Teens To Talk

Adolescence is the beginning of a long journey toward independence and can be one of the most difficult times for parents to negotiate. Though this is a very important process that parents want for the healthy development of their children, sometimes parents ask the question…what happened to my sweet little angel who used to tell me everything? If you find yourself at the place where communicating with your teen feels like speaking a foreign language, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
  1. LISTEN to the small stuff. It’s how we, as parents, earn the right to be trusted with the big stuff.
  2. LISTEN for the feelings. Summarize what they say and how they might be feeling (even if you have to guess).
  3. LISTEN, even when it’s difficult. IF you opt for getting upset, telling them what to do, or minimizing their issues, (“don’t let it get to you,” “that’s not such a big deal”), you can expect them to shut down very quickly.
  4. LISTEN…without judging. Decide if your teen needs to a) just blow off steam or b) find a solution. If (b), then take the position of asking helpful questions that LEAD your adolescent to find his/her solution. You want them to learn the PROCESS of thinking for themselves.
Remember:
—   The quality of the solution is not as important as the process by which it was reached.

—   The only way children learn to solve their own problems is with practice.

Spring Cleaning – Clearing the Clutter

Oh my goodness! Have you ever cleaned out – as in removed every single thing in preparation for a move or a remodel – your closet?!?!? HOLY COW. How do we acquire all that STUFF??

 

“Spring has sprung”, as the old saying goes, and many of us become obsessed with cleaning out closets, drawers, books and clutter. This is a lot like life. All that clutter weighs us down and drains our energy at work, at home and in our relationships. I find it interesting that we are not as excited to embark on a road to an “emotional clearing of the clutter.”

We put up with, accept, take on and are dragged down by things that we may have come to ignore.

Situations, people’s behavior, unmet needs, crossed boundaries, incomplete items, frustrations, problems, and even your own behavior can drain your energy and increase your stress levels. Perhaps we have gotten really good at excusing or minimizing certain things that get in our way of living life to its fullest.

Emotional cleansing is an art form: It takes practice as well as a deep commitment to shifting your thinking. But you can clear out unproductive thinking, negative self-talk and the clutter of past experiences. Just like cleaning out a closet, this kind of cleaning requires a sorting process (what to keep, what to release, what to give away).

Emotional Spring Cleaning Checklist:

1. Clutter. Yes, we’re talking about physical clutter! Messy surroundings are a definite source of stress because cleaning it up is constantly on our “to do” list. Our goal in emotional spring cleaning is to get rid of the excess baggage that’s needlessly occupying space in our brain and holding us back. A great place to start is by getting organized in our living and work spaces.

2. Resentments. Make a list of the people in your life you haven’t forgiven yet, and work on letting go of this negative energy. When you allot negative energy towards people and situations and do nothing about it, it festers and grows, and gets in the way of you being (and sharing) your best self. Try to understand why you’re holding on to it and what the payoff is aside from having something to occupy your mind and keeping your focus off of what’s really important. Do you hold onto resentment because you’re afraid of moving forward? Don’t be afraid to get real with yourself.

3. Excuses. Do you make excuses as to why you don’t go after the things you want in life? When someone suggests something to you that’s out of your comfort zone, do you make excuses as to why it’s not feasible or possible? This is your fear talking. Ask yourself: “Whose voice am I listening to?” Life is about opening your eyes to the opportunities that are available to you. Ignoring or dismissing them will only result in stagnation and lack of growth.

4. Procrastination. Procrastination is the physical result of denial. When you choose not to live in the present and you put things off until “someday”, which inevitably never comes, you’re again using valuable space in your brain and body as a storage space for stress. Abolishing procrastination and taking care of your business in a timely manner sometimes takes willpower and discipline, which may expend more energy in the present moment, but ultimately saves you tons of energy and stress in the end.

5. Wishing/Regrets. When you wish for something, or say, “If only…”, you’re focusing on the future, but in a very passive way. It does absolutely no good to wish for things or to express discontent about the way things are, if you do nothing to change them. The same goes for the past – having regrets about your actions only expresses your inability to see the potential growth that could come from every situation you’re in, positive or negative. Not to mention – you certainly can’t re-write the past, so dwelling on it without reflecting on the lessons is another pointless energy waster. If you find yourself unhappy about your current circumstances, figure out what you can do to change it. If you can’t change the situation, then perhaps choosing to view things differently will help you learn to accept that reality and not stress as much about it.

Why not take some time this weekend to inventory old behaviors and patterns that keep us in a constant state of drama – and clean them out along with the dust bunnies?

As a place to begin, let me encourage you to make a list of what you are putting up with at home, at work, or from outside activities that may be limiting you right now. There is no time like the present to identify those items. You may or may not choose to do anything about them just now, but becoming aware of and articulating them will bring them to the forefront where you will naturally start handling, eliminating, fixing and resolving them.

The Trap of Powerlessness

My mind is racing. I can’t focus on anything. I’m exhausted. I can’t handle what I have on my plate right now. I can’t even start or finish anything. My relationships are being affected. I’m anxious about everything. I cry. I’m not myself anymore. I need help.

Maybe you can relate to these thoughts. If you have ever experienced this type of despair, feeling as if your life and emotions are out of your control, you know how powerless it makes you feel. Persistent stress can lead to this sense of powerlessness. All you want to do is avoid the tasks before you because of the fear you will fail or become overwhelmed in the process.

What could you do if you feel powerless?

Powerlessness is a belief that you do not have the authority to act or that you lack power to change. When you have a stressful work environment, family situation or health problem, it’s normal to feel and believe that you do not have the power to act. You may not have control over your work situation, family issues or health problems. That reality can be very overwhelming. That is why the first step towards regaining a sense of power is to accept the things you cannot control and the negative feelings that come with that reality.

Easier said than done. To feel powerless or out of control can be very difficult to accept. But start there and do not allow your thoughts to lead you to shame. When you recognize the things you cannot control, you may feel a sense of shame because of the expectation that you “should” be able to handle everything that comes your way. A person with a perfectionistic view of themselves and the world may struggle with this step. But allow yourself to sit with the thought that there are things you cannot control and refrain from any attempt to get away from it. Mindfulness meditation is a great practice to help get into this mindset (refer to my previous post, The Beauty of Mindfulness). Observe the thoughts that arise and write them down. This step can be very powerful if you have never acknowledged your limitations.

The next step is to observe the feeling of powerlessness as a feeling that you are experiencing. Powerlessness is not who you are, rather it’s how you feel. When you view your feelings as something you are experiencing, you are able to defuse from that emotion. But if you are fused to powerlessness, you will see your life from that perspective. This fusing can lead to lower confidence in your ability to cope with stressors you may face in the future. This step helps you answer the question: how true is your powerlessness? Are you really devoid of any power to act? Allow the reality of your limitations to fuel you to be proactive with what you can control – yourself!

Start by assessing what is important in your life. What have you avoided that is actually important to you? What do you value most? Family? Spirituality? Health? Career? Relationships?

Now explore how you can live out these values to feel more like yourself again. Make small goals and follow the SMART goals model. Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Time bound. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting vague or unrealistic goals. How would you know you accomplished the goal? Examples of SMART goals are:

  • Call a friend to get coffee this week.
  • Go to church.
  • Pray for 5 minutes.
  • Make a list of things you’re grateful for.
  • Sit in silence for 5 minutes.
  • Practice Mindfulness for 5 minutes.
  • Read one chapter of an enjoyable book.
  • Disconnect from your phone for 1 hour.
  • Go to the doctor.
  • Go for a 30-minute walk once a week.

Try to accomplish one item from your goal list each week. As you live out your values, you will feel like you regained the power you believed you lost. If you can’t even get out of bed to begin regaining your strength and power, then seek support from friends or family. Pick up the phone and ask for help or schedule an appointment with a therapist. Don’t dwell on the things that are out of your control. The way to get out of a powerless mindset is to make small, healthy choices towards a healthier more fulfilling life, despite your circumstances.

Tips for Parents: Spring Break Edition

If the phrase “spring break” enlists more panic stricken thoughts of how to afford a Florida beach vacation for the whole family or last minute day camp ideas than thoughts of an actual break, then you’re in good company. For many parents this time, once looked forward to for months, becomes a chore. Lots of families opt for a big vacation, while others may be more comfortable staying at home. Depending on what suits your family best, either option can be a good one. So…

If you’re planning the big vacation:

  • Think realistically about what your child likes/doesn’t like and age appropriateness of activities. Just because he loves watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on TV, doesn’t mean he won’t have a complete and total meltdown at the sight of a real-life Mickey. Also, if you’re planning a trip to Colorado with your 3 year-old, maybe don’t expect to be able to go on that 10 mile hike you and your spouse did for your wedding anniversary that one year. One last thing in this point: save the innocent fellow passengers on an airplane as much pain as possible if you plan to take the aforementioned toddler on a ten-hour plane ride. Bring an iPad (don’t forget the charger), coloring books, his favorite lovie, travel games, and literally anything else you can possibly fit into a carry-on in order to keep him (and you) happy.
  • Even though Spring Break is a time to step out of the same ‘ole routine, don’t take that idea too far. Kids still need rest time! They can’t be expected to go, go, go all day and then make it through dinner without either conking out right there at the table or having one of those famous meltdowns. Bottom line- make time for nap time.
  • Allow for exploration! Especially if you’re kids are older and assuming you’re traveling to a safe destination, there’s no reason to hover over them every second. No, I’m not suggesting you should let your adolescent go into town for the night by themselves or even with a friend or sibling. But letting them walk down the beach to find some cool shells or allowing them to stand in line for a rollercoaster while you sit in the shade isn’t a bad thing and inherently builds confidence by fostering their independence.

If you’re planning to stay home:

  • Don’t panic if you don’t have every second of every day jam packed with fun activities. For most kids who are already over-booked with school and karate and swimming and baseball during a non-break day, sleeping in, staying in your PJs, having a movie marathon, and ordering pizza can be a blast.
  • Take a day trip! With places like Kemah and Galveston right down the road, there’s no reason why you can’t “go on vacation”. Get a few day passes to Schlitterbahn or check out Pleasure Pier—it won’t break the bank and your kiddos won’t go stir crazy after PJs and pizza day gets boring.
  • You don’t have to get out of the city to break out of that same ‘ole routine. If your go-to field trip with the kids is to the neighborhood park, try a different park… it’s that simple! Take them and some of their friends to the IMAX at the planetarium, let them have ice cream before bedtime (if you can handle that after a day in the museum district)—anything to mix it up a bit and make it special for them.

Whether you’re traveling to the happiest place on earth or staying at home this Spring Break, just remember this: make memories! Thinking back on some of my family vacations, I don’t remember the hotel rooms, the restaurants, or all of the tours we took. What I remember is laughing until I nearly peed my pants because of some lame inside joke my mom and I came up with while I was keeping her awake in the hotel room, my sister laughing so hard that milk came out of her nose in the middle of the fancy restaurant, and trying not to chuckle at all the naked statues we saw in that one museum. Chances are, your child won’t remember how much money you spent or any facts about the tourist attractions you visited either. What they will remember is spending time with you, so make the most of it whatever you do!

Are You Wasting Your Emotional Energy?

So I’m going to talk about famous people for a bit.  Just bear with me.

As I was watching the news on Tuesday morning, a story about the rivalry between Kanye West and Taylor Swift (both current pop/R&B icons) was brought to my attention.  The segment focused on a speech given at the Grammy Award Ceremony by T. Swift.  A portion of the speech is below.

“There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame, but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you…”

Evidently, Swift was responding to a lyric in one of West’s new songs where he supposedly tried to take credit for her success.  I understand that she is standing up for herself, and encouraging young women to persevere.  However, both of these celebrities continue to hold power over one another by constantly talking about each other publicly.  The news anchors reminded me that this all started back in 2009!  That’s 7 years ago people!

SERIOUSLY!?   How often do we waist emotional energy focusing on grudges or past hurts?  Holding grudges will steel your joy and, frankly, it’s a terrible waste of emotional energy– energy that we could be using to grow, discover, process, relate, connect, and practice vulnerability.  Yes, working through horrendous hurts and pain takes time and work.  Some of my clients have experienced things that make me weep if I dwell on them and these experiences will never disappear.  Experiences change people.  But, if we are able to spend the time and do the work (hard work) of confronting our pasts honestly, then we are able to experience a new sense of freedom and peace that is life-giving.  We are able to focus on what we desire to focus on- healthy relationships; and stop focusing, all the time, on those who have injured us.

If you are allowing a past experience to rule your mind and heart, reach out and seek help. This takes an extreme amount of courage, but sometimes (a lot of times) we need a professional to walk alongside us and teach us how to move forward in a healthy way.  Whether it’s sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, trauma, or relationship issues, something that happened as a child, or 3 years ago, don’t waste any more precious time.  Make an appointment with a counselor today.

Happy Birthday To Me!!!

It’s my birthday!!! That’s right. Today is my birthday and I’m going to treat myself, like I always do on my birthday. I loooove celebrating my birthday.  I throw my own birthday parties, take the entire week off of work and splurge on myself. I treat myself to things I usually don’t do…… ultimately I truly enjoy my birthday.

In looking back to how I’ve celebrated in the past, I now see that I’ve celebrated so much on my birthday because I celebrate myself so little the other 364 days of the year. A one-time quick celebration doesn’t actually help the 70 hour work weeks and constant stress.

But this year, I don’t feel the need to take a full week off of work or disengage from the norm in order to relax or celebrate. I’ve been thinking about it and I believe it’s not because I don’t want to enjoy my birthday. Believe me, I love me some me and I love celebrating me! But I think the reason I don’t feel the need to retreat is because I’m actually taking pretty good care of myself.

So what is good self-care? Most people can’t answer that because we are too busy living our lives to take proper care of ourselves. The best way to implement good self-care is with consistent daily habits. Here is a list of some good ideas for self-care. These ideas seem very simple and you may be tempted to roll your eyes or move on to the next blog because you don’t need to read this. But there’s a reason I’m writing about this. Because as simple as it may seem, we just don’t do it. So here goes……….

1) Eat food that is good for you. Most of us cringe at good food because we automatically assume that we won’t enjoy it. Eating is one of my favorite hobbies but I have slowly made changes that have been extremely beneficial. A small change like juicing in the morning for breakfast or snacking on almonds instead of candy can make long-lasting differences.

2) Work-out. Exercise is one of the most underrated types of self-care. Just a quick walk in the morning or at lunchtime can help clear your mind and help with chronic medical problems. We all know that exercise releases endorphins but research also shows that exercise increases production of serotonin and norepinephrine which reduces depression and stress.

3) Go to bed. Getting good sleep is an important goal. If you’re consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep then you are sleep deprived. Make it a point to stop whatever you’re doing and go to bed early. Or close your office door for about 15 minutes and take a power nap.

4) See a doctor. We make sure that we take our kids and our pets to the doctor but we don’t see the importance of it for ourselves. It is important to set aside time to get the medical attention you need. Prevention is much easier than treatment.

5) Unplug. Some people have a weekend away with no electronics which is amazing! You may not be able to do that but simple strategies like screening your calls, turning off your computer and phone for an evening will help you to unplug and unwind.

6) Compliment yourself. Take time out of your day to really appreciate your physical beauty, accomplishments, values and talents.

7) Do something fun. That might be reading a book, going to a museum or splurging a little on yourself. Life is too short not to have a little fun!

8) Take time off of work! ** this is my favorite one** Statistics show that Americans use only 50% of their vacation time. I hate to burst your bubble, but you are not that important! If you skip a day at work, the sky isn’t going to fall. And you’ll probably be more productive in the long run if you take time off occasionally.

If you’re doing all of these, you are taking very good care of yourself. If you’re not, then pick just one to start with and go from there. Remember, how you treat yourself sets the standard for how others will treat you.

The Beauty of Mindfulness

What do you think about when you hear the word mindfulness? Not losing your mind, being quiet, being attuned to social cues, or staying in the present?

Mindfulness as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the “quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; or the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”.

Why would someone exercise this practice at all?

In a person’s average day, thoughts and feelings that surface are appraised as either positive or negative. The thoughts and feelings appraised as negative typically are suppressed or avoided, which affirms them as powerful. This affirmation helps the thoughts and feelings develop into a disruptive part of a person’s framework. In the wake, lots of energy is spent on avoiding those negative thoughts and feelings at any cost. That can mean staying home, not engaging in enjoyable activities, or even self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness does not just help you relax, although that ultimately happens, but it also helps you acknowledge and accept the real time experiences in your mind and body without judging yourself for it. The hope is that as you acknowledge, accept and stop struggling to control every sensation, thought, or feeling, you realize its only a process that will pass on like a leaf floating on a stream. With enough practice, individuals can gain self-compassion and break the cycle of avoiding and self-medicating, which only maintains what could ultimately become anxiety or depression.

If you are calm, mindfulness can be relatively straightforward. And while it can be learned in many different ways, breathing exercises or eating exercises are probably the most common way to start. These exercises help slow down the restless mind and create an opportunity to focus on the simple act itself. During a breathing exercise, for example, individuals may be encouraged to be conscious of how the chest rises at inhale and falls at exhale, the temperature of the breath, the cold air as you breath in, the hot air as you breath out, the feeling of your arms hanging on your shoulders, or your bottom on a chair or on the floor. If thoughts arise during a breathing exercise, individuals are encouraged to look at them as non-judgmental observers, not trying to get rid of them or classifying them as good or bad, but just letting them pass on.

Mindfulness may not be as easy when you are not in a peaceful state of mind. Whether you are dealing with an overall feeling of anxiety, a specific trigger, or a fear of losing control, for example, mindfulness can require a great amount of discipline. And in the same vein, if negative thoughts arise during the actual mindfulness exercise, it’s easy for the person to become defensive and lose the intent of the exercise. However, it is these times that are arguably the most important to stay dedicated and re-center on the exercise itself and be a non-judgmental observer.