Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mindfulness: Hold Your Pain Like a Baby

I've practiced sitting meditation for years, and it was only when I committed to using HeadSpace for almost a full year, that I discovered why people meditate regularly—it really changes the way you deal and perceive generalized anxiety. For me, it helped me with the skill that I call making space or "holding pain like a baby".

The concept of making space first came to me from a therapist I had over 10 years ago. He was also the first person to introduce me to ACT, a type of therapy that is a little more philosophical and deeper than CBT. It is some really heady stuff but what I liked about this therapist is that he boiled down the concepts to two major points that I have used ever since: The first, I have written about previously, which is a concept I call "walking towards your values". This is the idea that when faced with a lot of anxiety about a decision, you choose the thing that is in line with what you value, in your core. So, if you are trying to decide if you should continue to have a relationship with your father even though it is fraught with misunderstanding and poor communication you have to ask yourself what do I value in this situation? Do I value my relationship, even though it is difficult, with my father more than I value not having him in my life? If the answer is that you value the relationship more, then you can begin to figure out how to walk towards that value you in the least distressing way, in a way that doesn't then infringe on the value you have about your own well being or mental health. So that could mean I will maintain a relationship with my father but one with boundaries (ie. I will call on holidays and birthdays and visit once or twice a year).  Walking towards your values has helped me make a lot of very big decisions in my life, around work and home-life, decisions that I can look back on and feel very good about, even though, in the moment working through the kinks of the decision may have been painful. In the example with the father, creating those boundaries can be emotionally difficult as unnecessary and unwarranted guilt may rise up...now here is where the making space or holding your pain like a baby comes into play. That guilt that you feel isn't due to actually having done something wrong or immoral, which is what guilt is for (and we misuse the term all the time for when what we really feel is simply bad about something). So this guilt is simply just emotional discomfort or even pain and therefore there is nothing to "do" with it...except let it be...allow...our tendency is to struggle with emotional pain—try to avoid or get rid of it. Instead, ACT (and Mindfulness) invites us to DO NOTHING and I think of this as hold the pain like you would a baby—with care, support, gentleness, and love.

The sitting meditation is an opportunity for us to do just that: as feelings of discomfort arise, hold it and be with it, as you would a tiny baby.

Today, I am spending it off from work and simply doing the Mindfulness homework (which I can incorporate with the chores and tasks of the day). As I notice both the pleasant experiences and log them, I allow also for any discomfort and I don't do anything but treat it with care and kindness. It reduces struggle and, best of all, anxiety.

This is not a cure-all. It's a way to live with, and not against, the mental stuff we all deal with at various times of the day.

In that, my pleasant experiences are these tiny moments where I have rested into Mindfulness, whether it's noticing the breeze coming in through the window of my office and how it softly brushes my arms or kissing my daughters good morning and noticing how soft and still-newish their skin is.

So far, this course is giving me much more than I hope or expected...probably because I just went in with an open heart.

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