Mindfulness is defined as "the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment…” In other words, the past is distorted by our memories and the future is distorted by our fears and hopes, but the present moment is the only "true" reality we can experience. This "true" reality can be awesome or terrible, but at the end of the day it is reality and we can either accept it or hide from it by going into the past or future. Deep, right?
I've been told by my therapists (yeah, I have a lot of people trying to fix me) that practicing mindfulness is important because it can help one be able to accept the present reality and work with it to act in line with my values. But, how does one get to a mindful place? Another question I grapple with is how to reconcile the past and be future-oriented while continuing to be mindful of the present.
In an outpatient group therapy I participate in right now, we do a mindfulness/relaxation module first. It is usually some form of guided meditation or a participatory game to engage everyone and pull them briefly out of their headspace. Sometimes I can enter this mindfulness zone, sometimes I just fall asleep, but more often than not, even if I quieted my body, my mind is still fully active, and I get stressed out. I'm sitting here trying to practice accepting and experiencing the present moment by trying to use the plethora of mental health skills, like thought diffusion, to get my mind as relaxed as my body. It's not working, I'm still freaking out and now time is up and I just feel like shit.
Of course, it should be noted that relaxation-based mediation isn't the only way to be mindful. Other forms of mindfulness include exercising and engaging in other physical activities. I participate in a performing arts musical ensemble, and when I'm at practice or performing in a show I have to stay in the moment; I have to keep my mind sharp and focused on what is happening in the here and now because it could lead to me embarrassing myself in front of a group of random strangers or worse, letting down my group. So although I am in the present moment, I can't help but move into the past and think about those fuck ups or think about what I'm going to do after this piece ends. So, maybe this isn't helping me train my brain to be mindful either.
In the hospital, I initially scoffed at but came to enjoy the recreational therapy (RT) portion of the day. In RT you just do something that allows you to focus on something you enjoy doing. Fuck the past, fuck the future, right now I'm coloring. When I came home, I looked around for something I could do that would be fun (I actually hate coloring) and in the realm of things I enjoyed.
My favorite place in a museum is the miniatures room at the Art Institute of Chicago. There are all these tiny little rooms, with tiny little tables and chairs and beds and just tiny stuff everywhere. I looked around and found that there is this company, ROBOTIME, that makes dollhouse style rooms that you can painstakingly recreate with the supplies they give you. I found that the experience of sitting there cutting out paper, gluing together wood, bending metal, was just a soothing exercise. I didn't need to think that I was supposed to be getting into a "zone" like with guided meditation and no one really cares what the end product is. I found that it has a) given me something to do besides ruminate and surf the web and b) keep me more present-minded even when I'm not trying to use a razor blade.
I made the ROBOTIME Ada's Studio, and although I'm clumsy and not as detail oriented as I thought, it was actually super fun. And mindful. I got a lot out of the process, and no one really cares about the end product. Well, except maybe Ada who totally is missing a paint can.
about the author
My name is Dana Johnson and I am the creator of the Mood Check-In blog.