Phone-Life Balance: Using Mindfulness to Reconnect with Your Real Self and Your Real Life

I am honored to share a blog post I wrote for my friend and colleague Gordon Shippey’s blog: Phone-Life Balance: Using Mindfulness to Reconnect with Your Real Self and Your Real Life (also below). Gordon is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Atlanta, GA who specializes in mental health issues surrounding the Internet and our increasingly technological world, including issues such as Internet addiction, compulsive gaming, and addiction to online pornography. Please check out his website and blog for further information about prioritizing mental health in the technology age!

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We all know it’s true, that nagging voice inside is noticing more and more: We’ve become addicted to our smart phones. First thing in the morning (even before coffee!), last thing before turning out our bedside light, waiting at traffic lights or for tables at restaurants, and even during lulls in conversation with our friends and family, we light up our phones and check Facebook, Instagram, texts, email, news and other apps. For some it goes so far as answering calls during sex, or texting while driving – a fatal hazard! We hardly have time to enjoy a beautiful moment before we’re posing and taking pictures of it to post on our media pages. Our experiences are being hijacked by the cataloging of them, and all to supposedly help us feel more connected, maybe even more alive … but is it working?

Now that social media and the smart phones that put it constantly at our fingertips have been standard items for many years, the research is rolling in on how much better off we really are from these powerful inventions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t look good. According to a study at the University of Derby, the average smart phone user spends 3.6 hours on their device a day, with 13% of research participants showing full addiction behaviors. And it’s coming with a toll of less connectedness and increased depression.

11846633_1012552652112111_4359517682162020442_nI’m all for smart phones and social media! I love that I get to know the little goings on in my friends’ and family’s lives, and even “watch” their children grow up despite the sometimes thousands of miles between us. I love that I can quickly search for the nearest taco stand from anywhere that I am. I love that I can follow up on email or pay bills while waiting at the doctor’s office.

But what is the price for these conveniences? And what can one do about balancing the scale between help and harm? Borrowing from the ever-wise world of mindfulness, you may find that disconnecting from your phone for even brief periods of time brings great riches to the present moment you are actually living.

Instead of reaching for your phone first thing in the morning, try:

  • Doing a body scan and noticing where you need to stretch or which parts may need your special attention
  • Checking in with roommates, romantic partners, or children and asking them about their pending day

Instead of reaching for your phone last thing at night, try:

  • Engaging in progressive muscle relaxation where you tense and release the different muscles in your body
  • Checking in with yourself or your partner to share the “best” and “worst” of the day

Instead of reaching for your phone at a traffic light or while waiting in line, try:

  • Taking at least 3 deep, comfortable breaths
  • Really noticing the people and landscapes around you – the unique in the mundane, the little things you’ve passed a thousand times but never really seen

Instead of reaching for your phone while on your lunch break or eating meals alone, try:

  • Using your 5 sense to fully experience your food – what does it smell like, look like in full spectrum of color, feel like against your fingers and tongue, etc.?
  • Giving gratitude for the sun, water, minerals, plants and people who helped make it possible to eat your meal

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Instead of reaching for your phone while with people, try:

  • Listening with deep intent to what others are saying, or if they’re not talking, asking them questions and giving them time and space to fully answer
  • Sharing what’s on your mind – either your troubles or your joys – people won’t think you a complainer or a braggart – they do want to know who you really are!

If possible, push yourself to carve out moments of your day or week where you turn your phone off or at least leave it on vibrate in the other room. Delete apps that you notice are sucking up too much of your time. (I personally did this with much success in terms of improved productivity and time for, gasp, reading actual books!)

Remember, our phones may be really good at lighting up areas of our brain that our brain then interprets as a reward. They may be really good at distracting us from our boredom or anxiety. They may be really good at directions home. But they can’t replace the people in our lives. And they certainly can’t live our lives for us. A perfectly posed picture can’t replace the experience of taking in a gorgeous mountain sunset or your dog greeting you with his merrily wagging tail. And a perfectly choreographed video can’t replace the actual experience of your first wedding dance, new husband or wife warm in your arms.

When we’re plugged into our phones, we miss out on so much. We miss out on our beautifully unscripted and un-catalogued lives. These spontaneous moments are the treasures we all look back on with love and joy. Nothing could be more important.

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content owned by Amanda Carver.

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How to Help Your Therapist Help You

Honored to have contributed to mindbodygreen with this article about how to get the most out of therapy! How to Help Your Therapist Help You

Do you have ideas about what has helped make your therapy more meaningful or beneficial? Please share!

You’ve mustered up the courage to say, “Something’s off in my life right now.” You seek the assistance of a helping professional to get back on track, and feel relieved almost immediately. You’re starting to make productive choices.

Maybe you’ve realized sadness or anxiety has hijacked your life, or you’re struggling with chronic conflict or lack of connection in your most important relationships. Maybe you’ve realized that despite having everything you always thought you wanted, you’re still not fulfilled. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided you are important enough to seek assistance with creating the life you want.

Some individuals seeking therapy think that their therapist will “fix” the problem that they are facing, even if they don’t realize this dynamic is at play. But therapy is work, for both parties involved. It takes reflection, a healthy balance of self-analysis and self-acceptance, and a commitment to follow-through.

If you’re in psychotherapy or counseling treatment or are considering gaining the assistance of a mental health professional or coach, the following tips will dramatically enhance the return you can gain from this powerful investment — an investment in you. I offer these tips as both a psychotherapist and someone who has benefited from being in therapy.

1. Don’t skimp on sessions — make it a practice.

People sometimes seek therapy services with a “one foot in, one foot out” mentality. This may look like frequently canceled sessions or forgetting or not doing homework. Unless you are on vacation or experiencing a true emergency, it is essential to attend sessions weekly (or at whatever interval you and your therapist have determined is best).

Building a relationship with your therapist and the regular contact that requires is the foundation for gaining the most from your therapy experience! Even on days when you’re feeling down (especially on these days!) or when the sun is shining and you’d rather spend an afternoon at the park, remind yourself that it is a commitment not just with your therapist, but with yourself.

2. Work between sessions. (It’s like “therapy homework.”)

Some therapists assign homework. This could be as simple as thinking about a certain topic or as specific as reading chapters in a book or practicing specific relational or coping strategies. Some therapies are designed to include homework on a regular basis, such as behavioral treatments like CBT or DBT. In other types of therapy, homework is more of a periodic way to enhance your growth experience.

Even if you aren’t assigned specific homework, it’s important to bring the thoughts and questions you engage with in therapy outside the office. Try exploring and practicing techniques you have worked on with your therapist in other relationships. Journal. Talk to supportive friends or family members about the questions you’ve been thinking about. Engaging in the process will help you transform a slow-paced recovery into a life-altering experience where the change you seek gains noticeable traction.

3. Get radically honest.

Therapists are trained professionals who are likely predisposed to offering compassion and support. We’ve taken this natural inclination to be helpful and learned specific ways of interacting with you that may assist with positive outcomes in your life.

Our ability to help you is severely limited if you aren’t honest with us. This includes the big things, like history of abuse or drug and alcohol intake, and the “smaller” things, too, like not having a sincere interest in a homework assignment.

I can’t tell you how many times a case has “cracked open” into meaningful change because a client finally disclosed needed information about him/herself and problems. If you’ve found yourself lying to your therapist, don’t beat yourself up! Shame about problems is normal, as is the impulse to lie. Just take the opportunity to be brave and correct this information with your therapist.

4. Practice transparency.

Somewhat different from telling the truth, being transparent means telling the truth in incredibly subtle and internal ways. It’s having the courage to speak up and say, “No, I don’t think you got that quite right,” or, “I’m struggling with thoughts that you are judging me right now.”

It’s sharing your inner world with your therapist, especially as it relates to your therapist and your treatment. It may seem like you’ll hurt your therapist’s feelings, or that the information is not that important — but trust me, the “meat” of the process of therapy comes in these more intricate interactions where you allow yourself to be a fully authentic person.

Please note that these tips are offered under the assumption that you are working with a competent and compassionate therapist. Good therapists may sometimes point out problems or unhelpful patterns as a way to encourage healing and growth, but they know how to do so without judgment.

It is imperative that you feel safe with your therapist in terms of knowing that your therapist has your best interests at heart and will keep what you share confidential. If this is not the case, please consider speaking openly with your therapist about your concerns, or seeing if a different therapist may be a better fit for you.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Shining the Light on Sneaky Emotions, Part 3: I’m Not Upset, It’s Just a Stomachache

In my last posts, I’ve been sharing information about sneaky emotions as a way to help you shine the light on what’s really going on in your emotional life and increase your chances of feeling better.

We’ve discussed Anger as a Rowdy Ruse and Depression as the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Today, I want to talk about psychosomatic symptoms. To recap, psychosomatic symptoms are physical symptoms that arise in response to an emotional trigger. The energy of the emotion is converted, so to speak, into headaches, stomach pains, diarrhea, or other physical ailments. The reason this happens is twofold.

First, our emotional and physical experiences are always tightly connected! We do not have a mind separate from our body. Our emotional wisdom literally courses throughout our nerves. We cry when we’re sad, clench when we’re angry, tense when we’re anxious, and have all felt the literal ache of a broken heart. More and more, researchers are learning about the wonders of the vagus nerve in your abdomen that is the biological explanation for the long held concept of the “gut instinct.” Embracing the fusion of emotion and body is essential, and this post is certainly not about trying to unnaturally separate them. 22059_100569169979883_1506761_n

“Denial Ain’t Just A River In Egypt”

However, another reason emotional energy gets converted into physical symptoms is because of denial of our emotional truths. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism that when used sparingly, can effectively help us cope with difficult life experiences. Consider the person who denies the extent of a terminal illness to the point of seeking profoundly helpful treatments versus the person who denies the extent of a terminal illness to the point of ignoring her/his need for basic medical care. Some denial is helpful, and all denial is human. But when we can’t accept our emotional truths to the point of repeated psychosomatic symptoms, the level of denial can be deeply ineffective, not to mention literally painful.

If you are someone who struggles with chronic pain, such as headaches or gastrointestinal issues, and a doctor has confirmed that your pain does not have a physical cause, you may consider addressing it through an emotional route. I am not suggesting to dismiss your physical symptoms! Your pain is real and deserves your attention. I’m also not suggesting that your pain is “all in your head.” As I established earlier, there’s no such thing as a complete separation of mind and body. What I am saying is that in addition to engaging in appropriate medical care, you may also consider some deep soul-searching about other causes in the emotional realm, such as disowned anxiety, anger, or sadness.

Popping medicine, or worse, avoiding the activities of your life in some way due to chronic psychosomatic pain without also addressing the underlying emotional causes is much like slapping a Band-Aid on a festering wound: your pain will only get worse. Logically, we can see how this happens. If you’re anxious, say, by social interaction or job performance issues, and begin downing Mylanta and avoiding those situations as much as possible convincing yourself the whole time the real problem is this “bad stomach,” then your anxiety will worsen as you continue to avoid the situation, and your bad stomach will worsen as you continue to avoid your anxiety. On the other hand, if you can begin to connect the dots between your emotional and physical experiences, and then honor or heal those emotions, you will likely experience physical healing as well.

If this sounds like it could be you, take the followings steps:

  1. Admit to yourself that your physical problems may also be influenced by emotional distress
  2. Remind yourself that this is human, it’s not all in your head, and you are not weak or false for having this experience
  3. Confirm through a doctor that there aren’t medical issues causing your problems
  4. Through solitary self-reflection or with the assistance of a trusted friend or helping professional, begin looking at what emotion(s) may be stuck for you
  5. Allow yourself to honestly evaluate your dissatisfactions and insecurities
  6. Validate your emotional experience and if needed, seek validation from others as well
  7. Begin to look at ways to alleviate your distress, and accept help if needed: Do you need to learn specific coping skills? Face a fear? Confront an aggressor? Set better limits? Grieve a loss or old wound? Take steps toward your values and dreams?
  8. Give yourself time to heal, and trust in the wisdom of your mind and body to guide you in this work

Remember to be gentle with yourself as you embark on emotional discoveries and change. Harshly criticizing your experience is just as damaging as the original denial. With a curious and compassionate heart, allow your emotional truths to unfurl. With time you will blossom into all heights of healing.

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All content owned by Amanda Bowers. This post is dedicated in memory of her beloved dog, Ruby.

Falling in the Hole, and How to Get Out

My close friends and I have taken to calling it, “falling in the hole.” That feeling of walking along in your life and then, whoops, finding yourself unexpectedly in the hole of depression or anxiety complete with confusion about how you got there or how to get out. Falling in the hole can look like difficulty getting out of bed and completing anything other than necessary tasks, cancelling social plans due to feelings of insecurity, avoiding the very elements of your life that give you more meaning, and finding yourself unexplainably irritable or sensitive toward friends and partners. Falling in the hole is a bit different falling from falling of the horse, as I discussed in my last post. Falling in the hole is a less profound experience that lasts for a few hours or a few days at most.

Having fallen in the hole countless times in my life, as well as helping many others – both friends and clients out of their respective holes – I have a few ideas about how to gain the most from these experiences while having them impact your life the least.

Try to Pin-Point What You Slipped On – the very nature of falling in the hole means there’s likely some confusion about how you got there. What on earth happened? Just yesterday you were glowing with stability. But if you look more closely, there are usually clues. Despite what some people think, emotions do not materialize out of thin air. Neither are emotions facts – they don’t always make sense, and aren’t always helpful. But they do always have a cause, and they do have the function of communicating something potentially important to use. Take time to listen. Think back over the past hours or days and see if you can notice a moment that in hindsight, caused you unease. It could be an upcoming work deadline, the success of a friend that has you thinking about failures, or an unusually disturbing nightmare. Still unsure? Journaling is a great way to help. Just write whatever comes to mind. Even if it seems unrelated at first, something may pop up.IMG_0419

Accept That It Could Be Biological or Historical – emotions always have causes, but sometimes the causes are very chemical in nature. After all, our beautifully complex brains are an electric circuit of synapses firing at will. Pre-menstrual Syndrome is a very real experience for many women caused by the plummet of estrogen and rise of progesterone in the days leading up to a period. Or maybe you’ve been exercise-deprived, eating too much sugar, drinking too much alcohol, or not getting enough sleep. Sometimes our circuitry gets re-fired by a historical trigger – something that happens in our present reminds us, even on an unconscious level, of something that happened in our past. It could be as simple as an anniversary of important events, or even watching a mother scold her child the way you were scolded such that shame rises to your face and yet you can’t connect the dots as to why.

Problem Solve It If You Can – if you can figure out the likely culprits to your situation, then take some time to problem-solve. That’s one reason we have emotions – to spring us into action! To set boundaries, escape dangers, take steps to creating more fulfilling lives. This could be a quick fix in some instances – such as letting a partner know it is important to celebrate your birthday after all, or setting aside some extra time to get ahead on that work project.

Try “Opposite Action” If You Can’t – in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a treatment for mood dysregulation championed by Marsha Linehan, there is a skill called Opposite Action. It’s one of my favorite skills. In brief, it goes a little something like this: feeling depressed with urges to isolate? Act the opposite – get out of bed, get active, get social. Feeling anxious with urges to avoid people or situations that you know will not bring you harm? Approach those people and situations anyway, with as much confidence as you can muster. Feeling really angry at your partner for minor irritations? Rather than attack, gently avoid until you can calm down or even act kindly toward him/her. The idea is not to suppress your emotion, but to still act opposite to it, such that the actions themselves help you regulate again. This only works in situations where your emotion doesn’t fit the facts (your friends aren’t likely to reject you) or where the intensity of your emotion is a little extreme (your partner hurt your feelings but didn’t mean to).IMG_0420

It’s Okay To Take a Day Off – don’t be too hard on yourself if you just can’t get out of the hole immediately. Sometimes our minds or bodies need a break, and falling in the hole is a way to get that break. Allow for some down time, some tears, some worries, some self-care, and some sleep. Just don’t stay stuck for too long. If you find you repeatedly can’t get out of the hole day after day, that’s a good indication that you may need some assistance from others – either professionals or those wise ones in your tribe.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Getting Back on the Horse

I’ve been through my fair share of troubles. There was a span of time in my early thirties where I experienced many tremendous losses in quick succession. When I say I spent months hibernating except for work, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. Being asleep where I could either not feel my pain, or could reconnect with a better life through dreamland was far preferable to facing the reality that I had to rebuild my life. And yet I did wake up and slowly but surely rebuilt it. I don’t assume that my personal journey of healing is the one and only way to get back on the horse. I also know sometimes we get knocked down in smaller ways that still feel deeply impacting and strangle us from moving forward. From a personal and professional place, I’ll share some ideas about how to get your feet back under you.

Honor the Pain

In mindfulness there is the concept of neither ignoring nor clinging to thoughts, emotions, or experiences. You let them come and go as ripples in the water of your life. Sometimes this is a really difficult thing to do. You either want to completely push down your upset feelings, or you wallow in them, soaking in the tub of despair until your fingers get pruney. In the most mindful way you can muster, it is imperative to honor your pain. This may mean powerful crying jags, brutally honest journaling, speaking your truth to others, delving into artistic expression, or even allowing time alone to just sit with the sadness or anxiety or anger of your situation and notice it rise and fall again and again. It’s ok to feel bad. Allowing yourself to feel it is the only way to heal it.

Enlist Support

Whether it’s in gaining a wiser perspective of your situation, or in simply having someone to acknowledge your pain with you – enlisting support is essential. Support comes in many forms: friends, family, professionals. Choose carefully! Don’t expect that well intended but emotionally stunted sibling or friend to suddenly know how to validate and encourage you. Instead, seek the guidance of those you know to be supportive, or even from professionals, such as therapists, life coaches, or other healing artists. Allow those offering their support to do so. Accepting a dinner date with your best friend may be tremendously soothing to your bruised ego or aching soul, even if it won’t “fix” it.

Nurture Your Body and Soul

This seems obvious, but it’s often during our most difficult times that we forget the basics, such as sleep, nutritious food, moving our bodies, and engaging in spiritual practice. These basics are essential to your recovery and to making the wisest decisions about how to proceed. I’m not suggesting that you put pressure on yourself to dramatically change your diet or exercise routine in a moment of high stress – but do at least eat, clear your head on a walk around the block, and read an inspiring poem or trusted scripture. Allow yourself to be grateful for the smallest things, knowing that gratitude is not a way to discount your pain – you can hold both in your heart at the same time.

Begin Re-imagining Your Life

When you’ve had a bit of recovery time under your belt, get real about who you are and where you want to be headed. If you’re not sure about your goals and are feeling rather directionless, then check in with personal values, passions, and curiosities. Do you value community? Then begin considering ways to be helpful to others, maybe volunteer work or a change in careers. Are you passionate about decorating and crafts? Then maybe it’s time to figure out new or bigger projects to inspire you. Keep to the promises you’ve made to yourself to be healthier, more authentic, and more engaged with life. Don’t get bogged down imagining a life that can’t be (such as with someone who has broken up with you). But DO allow yourself to dream big – there’s no telling the brilliant, beautiful life you can create!

Start with Teeny Weeny Baby Steps

We’ve all heard the famous Lao-tzu quote, “A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s true! But don’t worry so much about the miles, just take a step. A teeny weeny one. I can’t emphasize the teeny weeny enough. Whether you have a detailed life plan, or just a glimmer of something that could provide you hope, start moving in that direction. Be both structured and spontaneous. Don’t get too caught up in all the planning. This step is mostly about ACTION. Pick at least one thing to do differently, and then DO it … just one tiny little bit at a time.

I promise no matter what curve balls life has thrown you, the heartache and bitterness can fade into gratitude and vitality again, or you may even feel those things for the first time because of the important lessons you’ve learned.

IMG_0617All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Gratitude: The Cure for What Ails You

I come to the page this morning to share something that’s been on my heart and mind, a practice that is my no. 1 go-to for moments of frustration, anxiety, inertia, and even hopelessness. Even when mindfulness seems like too much energy to muster and I am stuck in a place where my mind refuses to grant me a moment’s peace, I can always count on gratitude to help me take that next step forward in a healthy direction.

I practice Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) with kids and teens, teaching the skills of mindfulness and coping on a near-daily basis to those whose brains can barely grasp much less practice the concepts, and to those whose hearts and minds have been harmed in ways unfathomable. Yet I keep teaching it, because at the heart of this behavioral treatment, there is a depth of wisdom, a philosophy even, that can powerfully change lives. One aspect of this treatment is the ability to hold two seemingly opposing concepts at the same time – “I am doing the best I can and I can do better.” As well as shifting perspective, back and forth between the forest (life goals) and trees (mindfulness). Gratitude is an excellent way to quickly shift perspective. In the midst of feeling there’s too much of this and not enough of that, you stop and recognize what already is and how absolutely perfect the present moment can be.IMG_1785

For some, taking a moment to reflect on gratitude may come quite easy. You stop and think, “My family, my job, my health.” For others, perhaps those in great pain and loneliness, it may be more difficult. Yet I am here to tell you that one doesn’t have to search far to find something or someone to be grateful for. Even with my most pained clients, all it takes is some gentle nudging to get them on their feet and smelling the roses of gratitude. It doesn’t cure a problem. It is not an ever-lasting happiness pill to pop. But in that moment, it can give you the oomph you need to take the next step toward your healthy life.

I invite you to take a few moments right now and consider at least 10 things you are grateful for in this present moment. Things that do not need to come to fruition in order for you to be grateful, but what you are grateful for right now. If you’re having a difficult time getting started, start with the basics: you have met enough of your basic needs to be here right now (food, shelter), you can read, you at least have the desire to desire more for yourself (you want to want, which is a start). As you gain in ability to open your heart in this way, consider even more specific and “simpler” things: the exact gift of the bird song outside your morning window, the freedom of feeling the earth beneath your bare feet, sipping your favorite tea from your favorite mug, and as I always say, the sweet summer perfection of strawberry rhubarb pie.

My 10 Things

1. getting to sleep late right in the middle of the bed, surrounded by pillows and the dabbling of morning light
2. looking back and seeing how I always get back on the horse, no matter how hopeless that may have seemed at times
3. fresh berries – blue, black, rasp, or straw
4. in the midst of summer, everything is gorgeous green – and the flowers!
5. these clothes that cover me, often softly
6. these feet that take me where I ask, usually without complaint
7. the Internet – seriously. So much knowledge, so many connections right at my fingertips
8. just how often I remember my dreams, the glimpses into my deeper struggles and knowing
9. human touch on a daily basis, hugs are profound
10. the cardinals, blue jays, squirrels and chipmunks who make it worth being outside despite the mosquitoes

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All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

From Do to Be: 12 Mindfulness Activities

After writing about mindfulness recently and suggesting 3 steps to create a more mindful life, it occurred to me that sometimes we need something more concrete in order to learn new skills. In this post I offer 12 simple mindfulness exercises to jump-start your mindful life!

1. Sitting at Your Desk: Take a few moments at your desk to pause and really experience the moment. How does your chair feel against your skin or fit against your bones? What smells can you detect? Is there music playing? What can you see without getting up to move? The point of this exercise is not to relax or even necessarily enjoy your surroundings (though that may be the outcome!). It’s to become aware of this place where you probably spend large amounts of time. What is this place – your desk? How does it feel to be sitting here?

2. Eating Breakfast: Instead of rushing out the door with a granola bar and a smoothie, set your alarm 10-15 minutes earlier and take time to eat breakfast before you leave for your day. Sit down with your meal, and focus your attention on the colors, tastes, and textures – even the life behind your food. Such as, this is an orange, but it is also of the sun, earth, rain, the farmers who nurtured the tree, etc. If you are able, you can experience the oneness of life and death in the eating – even for vegetarians, something had to die to nurture the soil that grows your food. And yet this food is life, sustenance.

3. Walking Around Your Block: Some evening this week after dinner or before breakfast, take the time to mosey around your block. Do this with the purpose of really seeing your neighborhood, maybe for the first time. Again, focus on your 5 senses. What can you see in gardens, architecture, wildlife? What do you smell? Taste in the air? How does the ground crunch or remain solid beneath you? Take time to smell the roses.

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4. Lover’s Eyes: You’ll have to gain your partner’s cooperation for this one. Maybe even invite him/her to join! Take a full 3-5 minutes to stare into your lover’s eyes. No kissing, talking, or anything other than noticing the exact shapes and colors, the mix of golden and stormy hues. How do his/her eyes look in the light, in the shadows? Can you see yourself reflected in the pupils?

5. Notice Your Breath: Tried but true, when needing an immediate anchor for mindlessness, return to the breath. Focus on how it feels coming in through your nose, cold perhaps down the back of your throat, shoulders rising or belly expanding, and then hot back out, warming you up. If your mind wanders (and it will!), there is no need for judgment. Just notice the wandering and then bring your attention back to your breath. Try this for just 5 minutes at first.

6. Read Your Favorite Poem: If you have a beloved poem, passage, or even song, take a moment and read it aloud. Really feel the rhythm and the words as they take shape on your lips. Notice what emotions rise for you as you read, how your body changes in tension or relaxation, in ache or weightlessness.

7. Just Listen: Turn off the TV and iPod, and just listen. Listen to the silence. The empty space. Listen to the train passing in the distance. Your children playing in the backyard. Listen to the electric hum of lights and machines. The creak of old wood. A bird calling just outside the window. Listen to the sound of your own breathing. Open your ears … what do you hear?

8. Notice A Certain Color: This is a fun exercise for the whole day. Pick a color (any color!) and every time you see it, take a moment to be mindful of your surroundings. “There’s orange!,” for instance, and then take a breath and really notice where you are. This is a double mindfulness, because you are remaining mindful of noticing this color (I bet you’ll see it more than you think), and then the promise of further connection to the present moment when you encounter that color.

9. Play with Kids (or Animals): Kids have amazing aptitudes for mindfulness. The world has not yet taught them to be self-conscious, running a to-do list in their heads, or how to worry incessantly about the past or future. This is a mindfulness practice of participation. Can you open yourself to the moment? The sand castle, the tea party, the made up game of cops and robbers with the rules changing at every turn? Can you be fully present to the excitement and joy of imagination? Let go of your conscientiousness, your worries, your need to be in control or productive. Just play.

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10. In the Shower: This is an activity that is often done in haste and without thought. Instead of running your shower routine mindlessly,  pay attention to the feel of the water on your back and face, the smell of your shampoo and soap, the way your razor or washcloth feels over your skin. Take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to just be naked and tender and alive with yourself.

11. Dancing: The idea is to actually lose yourself in the music, and let your body express what it wants to express. If you’re a little hesitant to do this at the club or in front of others, close the door to your bedroom and crank up the volume on your favorite song. Turn off the critic, and see what your body might enjoy sharing about this specific beat or those catchy lyrics.

12. Waiting in Line: Next time you’re waiting in line at the post office or for a table at a restaurant, rather than pulling out your smart phone, take a moment to take in your surroundings. Allow yourself to really breathe, and notice the people, the chatter, the white noise, the music, the art on the walls, the smells of food. Take a moment to notice where you really are, and who you’re sharing this space with for a short time.

I cannot iterate enough that the purpose of mindfulness is not to relax or even to feel content. The purpose of mindfulness is to be alive in the present moment as it is – to notice what is and enter into what is with a purpose that focuses your attention and strengthens your anchor to vitality. The purpose of mindfulness is to slow down and experience. To be alive in the moment you have, which is always and ever, only this one. The past is gone. The future may or may not happen in any certain way, or at all. Live this moment. Don’t let it pass you by in a string of missed opportunities. There is beauty all around you. Heartache, too. It all deserves your attention.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers