Mindfulness: 3 Steps to Change your Life One Breath at a Time
A little over a year ago I had a baby and my life completely changed. My husband and I moved to a new city, he started a new job, and we had this new responsibility of caring for another human being. I was stressed to say the least. I came to realize that something had to change. I couldn’t continue living with an inner critic that made me doubt, stress, and worry about my life. I was tired of it all. In the most serendipitous way, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness and I started a daily meditation practice. At first, it was just a simple fifteen minute exercise to help me feel less anxious. However, as time went on, it morphed into so much more. I started to see and experience life differently. It felt like my whole mind shifted to a new perspective. That fifteen minute meditation turned into an all day practice of living in the present moment and learning to make choices that were conscious rather than unconscious.
With all that is going on in our crazy world, I am ever grateful I developed these skills. If you are interested in kicking your inner critic to the road, or living with less shame, doubt, guilt, or worry, here are a few ways to get started.
1. Pay attention to your thoughts. You have more control than you think.
In the past, I had never given much attention to my thoughts. They would whirl around in my head, saying whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. I didn’t question their validity or how they made me feel worried, hurt, angry, or uneasy. They were my thoughts and I was thinking them, so they must be true. Then, one day a friend asked me, “Are you thinking your thoughts? Or do they just happen to you?” I was stunned by the question. I had never consciously paid much attention to my thoughts. Most of the time they seemed like a random drunken circus monkey rambling in my mind. Half of the time, they were about things that were completely irrelevant. So I started to question my thoughts. When an endless stream of “what-if” scenarios would happen, or my inner critic would try to attack me, I would ask questions such as:
Is this helping right now? Is this true? Who said it was true? Will thinking this make the situation better or solve the problem? How relevant is this to the present moment? Is this thought adding value to the situation? Ok, so if x, y, z happens, then what? Is this just fear talking?
Most of the time what I was thinking was not helpful, not needed, and would not improve what I was worried about. I would assure myself that I would be okay. I also reminded myself that I would be able to deal with whatever came my way. Finally, I would allow the train of thoughts to leave. Remember, your mind is not in control of you. You are the thinker of the thoughts. Do not let the mind take your power and keep you hostage.
2. Pausing: Letting go of Past and Future
I started questioning everything, all of the time. It revealed to me that pretty much everything I was thinking was either creating a story about the past or projecting worry onto the future. I realized I wasn't truly living my life. All I was doing was walking around creating stories in my head about what had happened or might happen. In starting to question everything, now I could take it one step further. I would take a deep breath and turn my focus to my fingers until I could feel them tingling. Next, I would close my eyes and listen to what I could hear happening around me. I allowed myself to be empty of thought, connected to my body, and to be fully present. This act of pausing has probably been the most profound practice for me. It truly allowed me to embrace that the past has already happened, and the future has yet to be created. All we have is right now.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
It is also important to remember we are human beings. In other words, we are not perfect and something this profound takes practice. It’s like a muscle that needs to be slowly trained over time to become strong. In incorporating this type of practice into your daily life, always remember to be kind to yourself. It can be challenging at first to let go of unhelpful thoughts and take a moment of pause. Allow yourself to have space to feel what you need to feel, even if it’s negative. It’s okay to be where you are, but know you have more power than you think. One person who brings positivity and presence with them will change every single other person they encounter. As the Buddha says, “Thousands of candles can be lit by a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases from being shared.”
Rachel Belliveau is the COO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Want to know more about her work in education? Read here!