For What It’s Worth…the Here and Now
Therapy is way more than a toolbox of intervention. Information alone cannot replace professional help. However, information can be very powerful. So, for what it’s worth to you, here is the weekly post offering a therapeutic idea, concept, or intervention that you can try out in your own life or relationships.
A hot new intervention in therapy these days is the use of something called “mindfulness”. It is a cognitive behavioral technique that is aimed at helping a person learn to train their mind to live in the “here and now”. It is commonly used to treat depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and related disorders. It is also used to help athletes with their functioning and with people who are suffering from chronic illness to manage pain and other symptoms. You can read more about it here as well as many other places on the Internet. A great book on using mindfulness to treat depression can be seen here.
The truth is that most of our worry, stress, and anxiety comes from thoughts of the PAST or worries for the FUTURE.
When we are stressed what can be most helpful is gently guiding our mind to the HERE and NOW by getting in touch with our senses.
This discipline, like all others, takes practice. It is suggested that these “here and now” exercises be practiced on a regular, daily basis.
Jesus even uses this technique in Matthew chapter 6. As he encourages his disciples not to worry…what does he do? He engages their sense. He tells them to “look” around…to notice things like the birds of the air, the flowers in the field.
So, for what it is worth…I encourage you to give your mind a break from the frenzied roller coaster of backward and forward thinking.
Want to get started? Here are some common mindfulness, “here and now” practices you can try on a regular basis. You can find these on many different websites across the Internet. I did not come up with any of them.
Give it a shot! You might be surprised at how your brain frenzy slows down and your gratitude goes up.
Here and Now Exercise 1
- Take one bite of an apple slice (or some other fruit) and then close your eyes. Do not begin chewing yet.
- Try not to pay attention to the ideas running through your mind, just focus on the apple. Notice anything that comes to mind about taste, texture, temperature and sensation going on in your mouth.
- Begin chewing now. Chew slowly, just noticing what it feels like. It’s normal that your mind will want to wander off. If you notice you’re paying more attention to your thinking than to the chewing, just let go of the thought for the moment and come back to the chewing. Notice each tiny movement of your jaw.
- In these moments you may find yourself wanting to swallow the apple. See if you can stay present and notice the subtle transition from chewing to swallowing.
- As you prepare to swallow the apple, try to follow it moving toward the back of your tongue and into your throat. Swallow the apple, following it until you can no longer feel any sensation of the food remaining.
- Take a deep breath and exhale.
Other ideas to help you eat “mindfully”:
Eat with chopsticks, eat with your non-dominant hand, chew your food 30 to 50 times per bite, eat without TV, newspaper or computer, eat sitting down, put the proper portions of food on your plate and try to make the meal last at least 20 minutes.
Here and Now Exercise 2
- First, set your intention to walk mindfully, in the “here and now”. Take a few deep breaths, and just acknowledge that during your walk you will try to be aware of your environment and your internal state (i.e., thoughts, feelings, sensations). There are no set rules for this walk, and it can be done in any location.
- As you begin to walk, first notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground. Notice the process of moving your legs. What muscles tense or relax as you move? Notice where you are stepping, the quality of each step (i.e., are you stepping hard or lightly onto the ground), and the feel of the ground beneath your feet or shoes.
- Expand your awareness to notice your surroundings. As you walk, what do you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel? How does the air feel on your skin? What do you notice around you?
- Expand your awareness so that you remain aware of the sensation of walking and the external environment while you also become aware of your internal experiences, such as your thoughts and emotions.
Here and Now Exercise 3
- Start by approaching your car/truck with the intention of being mindful…of being in the “here and now”.
- Notice each of the actions involved in starting the car: opening the door, sitting down, putting on your seatbelt, putting the keys in the ignition, turning the keys. Be aware of the sensations in your body throughout. Notice the feeling of sitting down, the feel of the cold metal key in your hand.
- As you pull out of your parking space, notice the sensation of motion, and the feeling of your hands on the steering wheel. Expand your awareness so that you are really aware of all of the things in your field of vision. In your mind, label each of the steps of your behavior (e.g.,”I am checking my rear view mirror. There is nothing in the way, I am backing up”).
- Continue practicing being aware of your experience of driving. If you notice that thoughts have pulled you away from the experience (e.g., you are thinking about something in the past or future), just gently shift your attention back to the experience of driving.
- Each time you stop at a red light or stop sign, use that as a cue to come back to the experience of driving. Our minds very easily wander to other things when we are driving because it is a habitual behavior. Each time you are stopped, just remind yourself to come back to being aware of driving.
- Continue to drive mindfully until you arrive at your destination.
I’ve found that mindfulness is cultivating a nonreactive awareness. It is always a practice, because we are humans. As humans, we can never completely live in the here and now. Our minds wander, and part of mindfulness practice is accepting that without judgment. However, with practice we can train our minds to wander away from the here and now less often.
The most useful byproduct of mindfulness for myself is being able to accept my own emotions, recognizing my internal state without judgment of myself or others. Self-awareness is the first step towards change, in my opinion. I think this concept is illustrated well by the Johari Window, which you wrote about previously.
I recommend “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana as a primer for mindfulness practice. It’s a good read, though I should preface that by saying that it is clearly written from a Buddhist perspective. My personal view is that Buddhist teachings and Christianity are not mutually exclusive or contradictory.
I had an experience in prayer the other day where I felt led to do nothing but sit in the presence of Christ. I enjoyed it so much that when it was time for me to leave I lamented the fact that I could not simply stay in His presence. Immediately I sensed His still, small voice asking me, “Why don’t you take me with you?” So, I left attempting to be mindful of His presence, seeing how long I could carry His presence with me. I am sure I looked like a fool. I was opening doors for Him, waiting on Him, etc. I had to wait a lot for Him, and at one point I wondered if He always walked so slowly. Then I realized that He was walking slow to keep me from letting my mind “run ahead.” Anyway, it was a powerful experience. Thanks for sharing!
[…] in the bible is a great place to start. Pray the words provided, making them personal for you. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that some find […]