Currently showing posts tagged mindfulness

  • STOP

    Some therapists love acronyms. I'm not generally one of them. But I know that sometimes it can be useful for me and for others to have a tool those moments when we find ourselves overwhlemed, shut down, reactive--challenged to summon whatever it takes to respond appropriately to what is right in front of us. This acronym--STOP--is useful for those situations. Those times when your partner promises to do the dishes and you come home and they're still piled in the sink. Times when you're cut off in traffic. Times when your child looks at you with careful deliberation before slowly pouring their milk onto the table. 

    What's funny to me is that when I was sharing it with a client for the first time, I couldn't remember the last part of it. I started to explain it this way. 

    S is for Stop. Stop to buld in a pause before action. Stop before rolling your eyes at your partner. Stop before shouting at the other driver. Stop before sighing in exasperation wth your child. Give yourself just a moment. 

    T is for Take a Breath. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Then inhale. Notice how deeply you can bring the air into your body: into your nose? Your throat? Your chest? Still deeper, into your belly? Maybe not. That's okay. Just making the effort buys you a little more time before you react. Making the effort reminds you to bring your attention back to yourself, and to your own efforts to be aware of your reaction. And if you're able to draw breath, the breath may begin to calm your bodily response.

    O is for Observe. That's all. Just observe yourself with as much compassion as you can muster. Listen to your body first. Notice the feelings of tension: the sweaty palms, the fluttery heart, the clenched jaw, the tingling belly. Or the feelings of heaviness and of lightness. Whatever it is that is happening in your body, attend to it. Then be curious about the emotion below the sensation. You may notice anger or fear or hurt. Or something else entirely. 

    P is for... and my mind went blank. My client wondered--was "plan" the next step, as in planning one's actions? I didn't think so. That sounded so cognitive. I wasn't sure that a person could there so quickly. Maybe it was "be present"? That felt right to me. I had to go back to this article to be reminded that the next and last step is Proceed.

    P is for Proceed. Just go ahead and do whatever comes next, with the greater awareness that comes from slowing down, calming the body with the breath, and noticing what's happening in the moment. Maybe you'll go ahead and do the same thing. Maybe you'll make a different choice. Either way, the awareness you bring begins to create space between the trigger and your reaction. And you get to choose who you want to be in that moment.

  • baby steps

    The New York Times has been running a lovely series over the last few months that explores meditation in real life, offering suggestions about when and how to move into a more mindful state.This piece looks at how to be mindful while holding a baby. I am drawn to this piece, and to this practice, but especially drawn by these parts of the practice:

    If the baby you are holding is awake and content, notice the changing expressions on his or her face. 

    If the baby is interested, gaze into its eyes for some moments. Notice any thoughts or emotions that may arise as you do this. 

    If the expression on the baby’s face changes to unhappiness or you hear sounds of fussing, notice any emotions this brings up for you — sadness, compassion, frustration or anxiety. 

    If the baby begins to cry, notice how this makes you feel, as well as any thoughts about the future, such as “how long will this last?” or “I don’t know what to do.”

    Feel the feelings, as unpleasant as they might be, and return to the breath. By working at being with your breath, your body may become an anchor for the baby to find calm in the present moment.

    This interplay between child and parent, parent and child, is the essence of the practice, just as it is the essence of the relationship: observing the other with care, noticing and allowing whatever thoughts, feelings and experiences arise for us as we observe, and returning to the place of calm within us in a way that allows the other to feel that calm and to use it for themselves.

    I spoke with a group of parents yesterday about just this: how to mindful of what is happening for each of us as we live in relationship with one another at the same time as recognizing that our needs and our child's are not always the same. It’s hard work—work that often goes unacknowledged because it is described and/or dismissed as “natural,” meaning instinctual, effortless, lacking in intention. Good parenting is the antithesis of this: it is a skill that we learn in relationship with a particular child who has particular needs; it requires great effort, often when we are feeling depleted ourselves; and the more clarity we can bring to our lived experience as parents, the more easily we can notice those moments when we are or are not acting in accordance with our own values.