Learning any new skill takes practice and exercise, mindfulness included. I recently learned a simple exercise from the very clever Ruby Wax. It's called CUES.
Focus your attention on your breathing whenever a specific environmental cue occurs. Here's how I've been using it: whenever I get an unexpected text notification, I use that cue as a reminder to bring my attention into the present moment for a few breaths.
Choose any cue that works for you. "Perhaps you will choose to become mindful every time you look in the mirror. Perhaps it will be every time your hands touch each other, or every time you hear a bird chirp." I've played around with using the hourly NPR news recap as a reminder. The options are endless and individual.
If you're already focused on the present when a mindfulness cue hits, that's great and carry on. It isn't to distract you from the present, it's to snap you back to the present when your mind might otherwise be spinning in every other direction but now.
When someone reacts the wrong way and it feels hurtful, take a deep breath and remember... their reaction is all about them and has nothing to do with you.
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I consider the fostering of interpersonal connections (aka friendships) to be an exercise in mindfulness, and a pretty important one.
It's usually about logging out of the digital distraction world to be with someone in the real world or about having someone who will be there with you when times get rough. Scanning my blog I found the friendship theme all over the place: in the ups and downs of life, the inadequacies of our "social" media, and the scourge of depression and suicide.
But a number of my friends have recently (and rightly) pointed out that this type of solution doesn't work for everyone. Many people don't have close friends they feel comfortable running to. Many have experienced shunning and even ridicule from friends when they do.
I have some great friends who I love dearly and have been there for me in all sorts of situations. As I found those friends I also found out a lot about myself. But despite all of that, I have to keep reminding myself of one important fact: my well-being isn't up to my friends, it's up to me.
Fostering good relationships can help you be more mindful, but overreliance on them to solve all your problems is not. They will never be the solution. The solution is you.
It's you making a choice to react to the outside world in a constructive way. It's you building up your capacity to handle life's inevitable drama. It's you spending time to better yourself instead of procrastinating with useless distractions.
My advice still stands; there's an enormous benefit to building strong relationships, especially in this day and age where technology simultaneously brings us together and pulls us apart. Just don't get all codependent about it.
Take some me time. Be alone--at home, out in nature, on a run, during yoga, on a long drive, part of a meditation, wherever--be present with your thoughts. Write to yourself. Listen to yourself. Learn from yourself.
When all is said and done, you're all you got. And that's actually kind of awesome.
We've all been there.
It's that day, that moment, when everything suddenly feels overwhelming.
It's like that inbox you've been neglecting. The notifications are piling up for weeks, months. So many that it's almost too much to handle. You don't even want to handle. You literally can't even handle.
It's the inbox of real life, and the messages have been piling up for some time: the to do list has gotten way too long; the little inadequacies you see in yourself keep interrupting; the friends you want to be there for you don't seem to be around. Every slight, every hesitation, every agitation piling up until one day, one moment, it boils over.
We've all been there.
I've been there, quite recently.
Clichédly speaking, life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes the ups are higher than you can ever imagine, sometimes the downs really fucking suck.
Knowing this will happen to you once in a while--knowing we've all been there--that doesn't make it any easier, especially when you're in the thick of it.
When you're feeling overwhelmed, pissed off, shitty, I say just feel it. Wallow in it. Don't put on a fake smile. Don't push yourself to pretend everything is fine. Just cry, scream, be angry.
This is all days, if not weeks, of pent-up negative energy you've been putting off, ignoring, pushing to the side. When you allow yourself to feel it, when you're present in your emotions, that's when you can begin to process it.
Write down how you feel. Verbal diarrhea all over the keyboard. Say it all. Say the things you've been meaning to say to yourself for years. Say the things you'd never ever tell another soul in your life. Get it out there, for yourself. Reread it. Marinate in it.
Talk to the people you love, because we've all been there. Send an text, make a call, go out to dinner. Maybe you think they won't understand. Maybe they actually won't understand. Who cares? If they love you they will care.
That doesn't mean they'll react the way you want them to or have the advice you're looking for. In fact, they might only have horribly naive advice to give. But at least they're sitting there across from you, listening, wishing you the best. Having someone to talk to, even if they have nothing to say back, it's cathartic.
The truth is, once you allow yourself to wallow, marinate, process, and express your emotions, you feel... relief.
Not that the problems themselves have gone away. Nope, they're all still there. But what you get from directly facing them is perspective. The fog clears, just a bit, and you begin to see a path forward. You see the potential. You get the energy to do something about it.
We've all been there and we'll all be there again.
I can't tell you whether it will be easier or harder the next time around. But we can learn from this bout in the ring. We can learn to tackle our problems head on instead of letting them fester. We can learn how to be better people in the process.
I put out a lot of advice on this blog about living a mindful life--to stay in the present, to realize the things you can and cannot control, to let go of worry and regret.
But here’s a NEWSFLASH: I'm terrible at following my own advice.
I regularly let my emotions get the better of me. I have a tendency to dwell on past decisions, reviewing and revising things I know I can't change. I often waste time in the present by formulating a series of "what if's" for my future. I waste even more time doing absolutely nothing, falling into the social media clickhole of mindless distraction. And once in a while I project my own issues and personal history on others, selfishly masking it as helpful advice.
In many ways, this blog is here to keep me honest. When I do or say things that don't vibe with my own mindfulness mantra, it's now a lot harder for me to escape it. I'm glad for that.
I haven't published a blog post in two weeks. As the days, hours, and minutes have ticked away since then, I've felt more and more guilty about it. Not that I think you're all waiting there at your computer with bated breath for my next musing. It's that I'm not doing my due diligence--I'm floating by in life instead of taking purposeful steps towards a better version of myself.
That's only one example of failure. If I really wanted to get into it, I could give you a whole list of mistakes. But that's a fruitless endeavor.
The best way to live your life isn't to spend it regretting a past decision, it's to learn from those decisions and then move forward as a better person.
Every day is a new chance to set a better intention.
Every trap you fall into is an new opportunity to get better footing.
Every failure is new lesson to use in making a better decision.
Nobody is perfect and nobody ever will be. The two big challenges in life are accepting that and pushing yourself to do better next time.