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What is "Mindfulness"?





People talk about mindfulness in so many different ways, it can be confusing and dare I say, overused. I think of mindfulness as the intentional, non-judgmental awareness of what one is currently experiencing in the present moment. It's interesting because a response to that understanding could be "isn't that what we all do all the time?". But actually, no, it isn't. It seems so simple but in reality, our attention is pulled in a hundred different places in any given moment. Our minds do not tend to pay attention to what is actually happening in a moment. While we're taking a shower, we are thinking about the conversation we had before we got in the shower, what we're going to do after we take a shower, the solution to a problem we are stuck on, a concern about something or someone pops up. We are not paying attention to our actual experience in that present moment - the feeling of the water running on our skin, how the floor feels on our feet, the texture of the soap, etc. This doesn't necessarily have to be about meditation specifically, although that is one useful tool to cultivate and build the muscle of mindfulness. It can be simply practicing a way of thinking about your thoughts by all sorts of types of reflection or presencing.


I have a lot of experience not being mindful. Misplaced keys or phone, driving away with a wallet left on the roof of a car at a gas station, leaving a mess behind me as a guest in someone's home, not realizing I was ignoring someone to follow my own whims. It's a big part of having ADHD. We miss things, we are in our heads, floating off in space or fixated with a creative idea. It can come across as inconsiderate, and disrespectful. It took me a long time to learn that this lack of mindfulness impacted my relationships negatively, and that I could do something about that. As a master of not being mindful, I feel like I have not only the professional expertise but also the personal expertise to talk about the benefits and merits of developing mindfulness.


My journey with mindfulness started when I agreed to go on a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat in my early twenties. I don't know why I agreed, it was the first time I had ever done anything of that sort, and I wasn't yet into personal growth. But something made me say yes. That was the start of a very long journey - I'd say there's a good chance that was what would eventually lead me to becoming a therapist. I had struggled for 10+ years at that point with an eating disorder called Binge Eating Disorder. This disorder involves eating to the point of painfulness, and frequently using food in times of stress or boredom to a point of discomfort. I had struggled with compulsive eating - even when I didn't want to eat I would find myself doing things like being unable to pass up a candy bar at a gas station just because, since the beginning of high school. That first vipassana retreat (I'd go on to do several more in the years after) was extremely challenging. My mind was ALL over the place. I think I even hallucinated at one point. I was struck with depression that kept me in bed for at least a couple of the days there. It was a very intense experience. But afterwards I noticed that I had greater mental clarity than I had ever experienced. My mind was still, calm, and clear. I was driving, getting gas, and coming back to life with a new perspective - an ability to be present to my experience. I found I could have a craving for food, my mind and body could experience a craving, and for the first time I could see the craving for what it was, and not give into it. It was amazingly empowering. While that first experience wasn't the end all be all for my struggle with addictive tendencies of all sorts, it created a new possibility for me. A possibility for relating to my mind and my thoughts in an entirely different way - one where they didn't HAVE to rule me and I didn't have to be at the mercy of them.


Ever since then I feel like I've been on a wiggly, upward spiral path of incorporating more mindfulness into my life. Many of the relational challenges interpreted as lack of consideration are no longer an issue, my relationship with food has dramatically shifted into freedom and choice, and as I peel back the layers, I continue to use the concepts and practices for whatever it is I'm working on - from parenting, to growing my business, to enhancing my skills as a therapist and leader.


So this is where my passion for mindfulness comes, and why I feel as though I will never abandon it regardless of what other people are saying about it's overuse. With the current pop psychology climate, many important terms are deemed "overused". That doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't important and still define something helpful to be understood!


In conclusion, I plan to continue spreading the word about mindfulness, advocating for it, and using it in my work! I hope this helps you get on board and not be turned off by this trendy word but search for its deeper meaning and usefulness in your life! It might not be what you think...



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