Today’s Topic: Mindfulness – What does mindfulness mean to you and how can it help as we live with our autoimmune condition?
When I consider people whom I consider to be “mindful,” I find that I admire most of them and get totally annoyed by a few. I think it has to do with confusing the definition of mindfulness with stereotypes, pretense, and gobbledegook. It may have to do with having come of age in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s when many things we now associate with mindfulness were linked with “those hippie people.” It may have to do with a few individuals in my life who have seemingly morphed from mindfulness into total self-absorption. Opposed to them are some women whom I consider the epitome of mindfulness and their inner peace manifests through their kindness to other people. I don’t know whether other people would describe me as mindful and I probably come across more as a down-to-earth Midwestern Grandma who used to be an accountant. At the same time I benefit greatly from the mental aspects of my twice-weekly yoga and have a history of using meditation techniques to deal with anxiety and occasionally pain. So maybe I am more mindful than I think.
Before I go too far, I should start with a definition and I’ll use one from the online Greater Good Magazine of the University of California Berkeley.
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”
I tend to use meditation and mindfulness as synonyms and that is not correct. IMO you can be mindful by living with awareness and acceptance of your life and you don’t have to sit cross-legged and meditate. You can use deep breathing to relax and ease pain while you watch TV in the evenings. You can learn to accept your chronic medical conditions without giving up the fight to maximize your capabilities and overcome barriers to good health. In cycling class I sometimes close my eyes and pedal with the music while blocking out the visual cues of numbers and colors on the monitor. The inner focus makes the hard hills easier. Maybe that is a formula for a mindful life where we can gain strength by accepting what is inside us rather than fighting outside stimuli. For the most part fear of the future does not help us deal with the present and for sure none of us thrive with self-criticism.
In general I am bad at meditation. I used to be able to lie down in my living room and complete an entire series of breathing and progressive relaxation scripts. My mind and body felt renewed and eerily wonderful afterwards. These days my thoughts wander and I think of this, that, or the other. I don’t seem very interested in reining in my random thoughts and maybe I just don’t need meditation at this point in my life. Or maybe I just don’t practice it enough to get much benefit.
But I like to think that I am somewhat mindful and that my life with multiple autoimmune conditions is enhanced when I accept my today with no judgement on yesterday or tomorrow. I strongly believe that when I am comfortable in my own skin, I am a better spouse, friend, parent, neighbor, and citizen of the world.
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