Buddhist Psychology Teaches that you are not your Body, Sensations, Emotions, Thoughts, and Impulses
and that these are phenomena of human experience. These things aren't who you are, but they are things that you have. To me, this gives us permission to not feel like we have to respond, react, use energy, or get consumed by them. And while that may seem hard, a Mindfulness practice can help you feel free within your mind and body. The goal isn't to be detached or perfect but perhaps to feel content, trusting and present.
SO, What Is Mindfulness? And Why?
Mindfulness is a habit of inquiry and curiosity that helps you understand your inner experience by untangling the various sensations, thoughts, emotions, preconceptions, and impulses that you may be feeling at any given moment.
Mindfulness is both a process and a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations as they arise moment by moment. Another word for mindfulness is loving-awareness because the goal of mindfulness is to be aware yet non-judgmental.
As you understand your state of being in any given moment, it allows you to become the observer with choice versus the reactor of stimuli. When you rehash the past or imagine the future it can provoke fear that may not be needed (or may not serve you) in the present moment, therefore Mindfulness is beneficial in helping you stay present with what's happening. And by staying present and grounded it can help you get your needs met while also creating more desirable outcomes.
Mindfulness helps you to be with the highest of joys as well as the depths of pain. When we can face sorrow and pain with loving awareness we gain trust in ourselves to be able to handle anything. Our anxieties settle so that we can allow ourselves to really experience love and joy. Our relationship to fear shifts and the feeling of freedom grows. Some Buddhist teachers believe that Mindfulness is the gateway to freedom.
What does it mean you are not your body, sensations,
emotions, thoughts, preconceptions, impulses? And how does that
relate to Mindfulness and Freedom?
You Are Not Your Body
The body is the amazing vehicle in which you experience the world and where every thought and emotion is happening. This means whatever kind of body you have and including the parts of you that you may wish were different, or even your voice, is not a a reflection of who you truly are, it's just what you have to work with. Isn't it interesting when people say, “I'm getting older, but I still feel young or the same."
This points to the notion that even though the body changes with age, there's something that’s unchanging. When your identity is tied closely with your body, as it changes and ages, suffering can arise; when identity resides in the place that's unchanging you can feel more peace and freedom as the body inevitably grows old, because you're not your body.
You Are Not Your Sensations
Sensations are phenomena of the physical body (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) and in balance they're useful because they provide information to you which can help you navigate your environment. Out of balance, sensations can contribute to emotion or can dictate your focus. In general, we can say that people in American culture have an underlining desire, “to be and stay comfortable," which often times can influence mood and can even be used to form personality or identity. This is only a problem if you feel like you are continually annoyed, worried, or reactive and at whim to your external environment.
Mindfulness practice allows you to have space between your experience and reaction which gives opportunity for more choice. In this choice lies a feeling of freedom and freedom to respond versus feeling the angst that stimulates reaction.
You Are Not Your Emotions
Emotion is important, useful, and we have emotion for a reason. For example, “Anger in response to injustice can signal that the situation needs to change." It’s when you fixate or get consumed by your emotions, that they might become problematic or counterproductive. Emotions are like waves. You can ride them and experience the places they take you and sometimes it's thrilling and necessary while other times messy or regretful, maybe taking you places you didn't want to end up.
Mindfulness can help you anchor into that observer place or loving awareness where you experience and use emotion but without getting lost and feeling out of control by the emotion. Mindfulness can help you stay calm as you get your needs met in such a way that will also lead you to more desirable outcomes. Mindfulness helps grounds you and thus frees you from your ever-changing emotions.
You Are Not Your ThoughtS
Thoughts come, and they come a lot. You have 12k to 50k thoughts per day (according to The National Science Foundation). It can be exhausting to give stock to each one. And...you don’t have too. You also don’t have to feel bad for all the kinds of thoughts you may have. You can have thoughts that scare you or are mean and these thoughts don't make you a bad person, because thoughts don’t reflect who you truly are.
And when you rest in that observer place via mindfulness you really start to see thoughts as something separate from the part of you that’s unchanging. They become like clouds passing by and you can feel an ability to grab onto the ones that you want to expand on or to let them move through you without feeling reactive or needing to indulge. Creating this kind of relationship to your thoughts can help you feel free from them but can also help you reside in a state of being that slows down the frequency and intensity of thoughts.
You Are Not Your Preconceptions
Preconceptions are your opinions and beliefs that come from your life experiences, culture, family, teachers, friends, coworkers-- basically everything that has influenced you. All together, they help you make sense of you and the world around you. They aren't innately bad, and I'd argue that the beliefs and opinions that make you feel alive, strong, happy, grounded, trusting, connected, fun, friendly, expansive, grateful, smart, open, loving,etc -- keep those. But perhaps question any beliefs that make you feel small, dumb, closed off, isolated, judgmental, ugly, unworthy, not good enough, weak, anxious, bored, unhappy, etc.
The question to ask yourself is, "Are they really helping me....Are they serving me?" Because your beliefs and opinions form a background in which you operate from consciously and unconsciously. And also they contribute to your inner dialogue and that can create suffering, anxiety and feeling small; but when you let go of the preconceptions that aren't serving you and cultivate an inner world that empowers you; preconceptions can contribute towards your peace, happiness, and freedom.
You Are Not Your Impulses
Your sensations, emotions, thoughts and preconceptions can all get tangled into this urge to react, and sometimes it's impulsive. And that feeling like your buttons are being pressed or that feeling of reacting can create agony and suffering. Impulses can stem from patterns and habits that are tied closely with preconceptions.
When you can untangle all the parts of your inner experience (sensations, thoughts, emotions, impulses, preconceptions) via mindfulness then you cultivate understanding. From here you can see your choices, which is empowering in and of itself. I’d argue the goal isn’t to be less impulsive but to have more inner peace, freedom and contentment, and decreased reactivity and impulsivity is a byproduct or a result.
So Who Are You?
Well, I hesitate to be that person who says you are consciousness, love, light, spirit, soul.....and not because I don't believe it to be true.... It's just that I believe it's said so often, and yet what does it really mean? And wouldn't it be more powerful to feel that then to just know it intellectually? I do know that the practice of asking, "Who am I? And what do I really want in this life?" will deepen your mindfulness practice and help you untangle from the sensations emotions, thoughts, preconceptions and impulses that are constantly happening. And what's left is that part of you that is unchanging and that's all-knowing and trusting. And this is indeed something you can feel,embody, and reside in. This is a place you can operate from and where the feeling of freedom comes from.
Mindfulness in Action:
[Note: This process can happen internally or externally. It can happen within seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc. While the intention is to begin mindfulness before a reaction it can happen during or after a reaction and that's okay! Mindfulness can begin at any time.]
Easier Said Than Done
Trust me, I know. It's important to note that Mindfulness is a practice. And you aren't perfect and this practice is not intended to be perfected, and that's okay. Perhaps consider it a guide or a map and maybe explore it with curiosity, "How can this work for me?" I will say with utmost confidence the more we practice, the more it becomes natural and enjoyable.
I know because I see the growth in myself. If you knew me growing up, I was a very reactive, emotional, and dramatic teenager that then struggled with high anxiety, sensitivity, and panic attacks as a young adult; I was bombarded by my environment on a continual basis. After much practice via mindfulness training (and the body-mind practices that I now share passionately); I've transformed. And I continue to do the work and with the work I get to reap the benefits of feeling grounded, trusting, and content more often than not. So I know first hand although not always easy, it's possible.
*Keys to Mindfulness*
Pausing * Breathing * Muscle * Nervous System
Core * Remembering * Willpower
Pausing & Breathing
Pausing is where mindfulness can take place. Pausing is where you can tune in and listen to your inner experience and true self voice. Breathing is how you can stay calm and present as you unpack your inner experience (even during a stimulating time).
Pausing and breathing provides you opportunity to see choice. They will both help you strengthen that muscle to observe your thoughts, emotions, impulses, preconceptions, and sensations. Because that's what it is, mindfulness is a muscle and with practice like any other muscle it strengthens and becomes easy and assessable to use.
Your nervous system is designed to help you make sense of all the input of your external world. You have the ability to produce adrenaline that helps you through intense and challenging times (sympathetic N.S) and you have the ability to relax and be at ease (parasympathetic N.S). Activating the parasympathetic nervous system will help you be calm and understanding which can help you pause, breathe and practice mindfulness.
When I say Core, I mean the feeling of groundedness that radiates from your core to the extent that you can even feel a comfortable heat in your lower abdomen. When you feel spacey, scattered, emotional, or worried this is partly due to the fact that energy is up (and in your head) contributing to overthinking and emotion. When you're consumed by thinking, worrying, and emotion it can be hard to just pause, breathe and be mindful. And that's understandable. There are very affective breathing postures and other exercises that can help you create this grounded-core-warmth feeling that clears the mind and can help you pause, breathe and be mindful more easily. (Next blog will expand on this!)
The practice of remembering is just that--valuing this concept of 'remembering mindfulness' will literally help you remember to pause within a stimulating situation. It will help you remember to breathe and be present with what's happening and will help you remember that you are not your thoughts, emotions, preconceptions, impulses, etc and that you have choice as you unpack your inner experience and align with how you really want to operate from.
There are unlimited methods that can help you center yourself and practice mindfulness. Methods can change depending on the moment and all it's variables, like sometimes a walk helps, sometimes meditating, talking to a friend, cathartically running or a good cry and etc. It's not about any specific method. When you focus more on your willpower you get less caught up and worried when a specific method doesn't work and more quickly you can move through your methods until you find something that helps you in that particular moment.
These are just some of the ways that currently help me cultivate my practice of mindfulness-- There are other things too and I look forward to learning and practicing more ways to help expand my practice of mindfulness. Please feel free to share yours!
I invite you
to explore this practice of mindfulness or perhaps continue to deepen your existing practice. My hope is for you to be kind and curious of your inner experience and for mindfulness practice to provide you with more ease as you navigate this not-always-easy-world.
Know that I help people relax the nervous system in order to untangle all of the parts of the inner world; cultivating a state of being that is grounded, freeing, and content. I whole heartily believe we're in this together and I wish you well in your journey.
A little of my back story
A decade ago, I fist studied mindfulness as a concept via my Thesis Research Paper. Despite there being some Mindfulness articles in the research arena, my advisor had no idea of Mindfulness Practice and really tried to advise me out of it. I continued with it and with 110 participants in my study, I did find a moderately significant correlation between Mindfulness and Subjective Vitality—suggesting that those who operate with mindfulness also feel a greater sense of aliveness and personal energy. This lead me to further deepen my meditation and body-mind practices which allowed me to develop an everyday mindfulness practice.
Fast forward to now
Mindfulness is well researched with it's hands in SO many fields like schools, education systems, businesses, parenting, recovery programs, death and dying services, hospital care, laws, prison-programs, universities, food and restaurant industry, government research, etc.. Even kinda of a buzzword right now, and understandably!
Mindfulness has roots
in Buddhism and arguably it's roots can be found in Hinduism, Taoism and Stoicism. John Kabot Zin, in 1979 founded Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and he is responsible for bringing a secular Mindfulness Practice to the western world, specifically to the medical field. There are SO many people who contributed to growing this amazing practice both within a buddhist context and without.
Some Benefits via NIH.GOV
"Studies suggest that mindfulness practices may help people manage stress, cope better with serious illness and reduce anxiety and depression. Many people who practice mindfulness report an increased ability to relax, a greater enthusiasm for life and improved self-esteem. One NIH-supported study found a link between mindfulness meditation and measurable changes in the brain regions involved in memory, learning and emotion. Another NIH-funded researcher reported that mindfulness practices may reduce anxiety and hostility among urban youth and lead to reduced stress, fewer fights and better relationships. A major benefit of mindfulness is that it encourages you to pay attention to your thoughts, your actions and your body. "
Mindfulness research and training is increasing
And I hope this blog adds to the conversation. I do want to give a shout out to one of my personal teachers, Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist and Mindfulness teacher of 40+ years. While I'll continue to post blogs and vlogs, I definitely also recommend Jack Kornfield's free podcast, Heart-Wisdom. He shares this practice with such wisdom, knowledge, and humility while making it so very assessable.