We are coming up to the end of Autism April and my next campaign will be Mindful May so I thought I best explain mindfulness before we get stuck into the month. Like my page of Facebook to get involved in the daily mindfulness challenge.
Mindfulness is paying attention non-judgementally to the present moment.
We see our world through our states of mind. I say “our world” because even though your world and my world are one and the same, your world looks vastly different to mine. You have your emotional sunglasses on and I have mine on.
My glasses were prescribed by the optimist (optometrist…Fraudian typo?) after he assessed my childhood history and what my eyes had seen. This will change the way you see the world now, he told me. He asked about my genetics and what made me who I am, my personality. This will effect how you see things too, he explained in earnest. He tested my current sight, what was I paying attention to in my life at the moment, what was important to me? He said “now Laura, these are a very high prescription glasses. When you wear them they will warp everything in your sight. Please try to take them off whenever you can and give your eyes a rest.” He forgot to say “give your mind and heart a rest too” but I knew what he meant.
When I was stressed, tired or busy I would forget to take the glasses off. I would even forget I was wearing them because you can’t tell. Everything feels real enough. We may stand side-by-side and both gaze at the same situation at the same time but while I look through my glasses I may think “gee this stinks, get me out of here” and you may think “well this definitely could be better but I have her by my side so I am happy”. I may notice the dead tree and succumb to my sadness, you may pay attention to the live tree and be over-come with vest for life. Your emotional glasses influence what you pay attention to. Mindfulness widens this attention.
My friend, lets call him Andrew, he went to the best optometrist there was. He fitted Andy the perfect glasses so that he never had to take them off. The optometrist fitted his glasses perfectly from the assessment of his childhood and personality, leaving no room for further influence. Great! Andy thought, I don’t have to worry about gathering other perspectives, my sight is just as it should be. But Andy could only ever see his situation through his emotions, and we all know that emotions carry us away from time to time. Andy’s family history assessment showed that he had seen some rough things. His personality pointed to pessimism. Because of his vulnerabilities, Andy was seeing his environment through very dark glasses.
When I met Andy we started to work on bringing out all of his senses other than his sight, we felt that he was relying on this warped sense too much. I got him to notice what he could smell in his world, what he could taste, touch and hear. His world opened up to him and he started to experience his environment objectively for the first time since he was a boy. Mindfulness allowed him to connect with the reality of his situation even when his perspective was so damaged.
You may have had your glasses prescribed by the dodgy bloke down the street. Life was rough for you and you didn’t have the money to see a professional Doctor of Perspective (Dr.P). Your glasses were clanky and thick rimmed so you hid them away under your car seat and barely ever wore them. Even though your upbringing had been tough, you mostly see each moment exactly as it is. You notice the environment with curiosity rather than judgement. This is mindfulness.
Everyone is given different glasses through which to see the world, that are moulded on their past experiences and their innate characteristics. Some people choose to wear them and some people don’t. Click to tweet this little gem!
Consciousness is very transient. The more conscious we are in each moment, the more each moment has the capacity to influence and inspire us in the right direction. Mindfulness brings this consciousness into a brighter spotlight. We perceive our events and situations in life according to our state of mind in the moment. This moves and changes with the mood. If we notice this, notice how our mood is shadowing our view, we will see ourselves and our situation from a gentler perspective.
If you are subscribed to my blogs you may be familiar with my many “self’s”… the haughty diva, the placid princess, the focused nerd, the compassionate carer. They all make an appearance from time to time. There is a self that I haven’t spoken about but she is the most important. She’s the Mumma self, the “observing self”. The others are judgemental little harpies, all in their own unique way. They are my different “states” and they all arrive depending on my mood and my environment. Sometimes they arrive together in conflict and civil war breaks out. But Mumma self is always there, every single second. She doesn’t judge or give opinion. She simply watches over every action, every thought, every feeling, every movement of my body. She simply “notices” what is happening. Every other self is vulnerable to low self esteem and giving in to unhealthy urges but Mumma self can never be swayed, can never be harmed. She is like the sky that can never be harmed by the weather. No matter what my other self’s scream and rant about… “you are so dumb” “you are procrastinating too much” “you are working too much” “you just failed that assessment” “you just failed that person”…she is not influenced by emotion or thought.
Although she is not your soul, because your soul can be swayed and influenced by your experiences and opportunities, your observing self is your soul’s best friend. She allows your soul to grow and flourish by protecting it from harm. Not everyone has soul but everyone does have an observing self. The observing self is the part of you that you want to tap into when something traumatic happens, it is the part that can watch the trauma and notice the damage but survive it unscathed. Your physical body can be taken from you through trauma. Your personality can be damaged through trauma but the essence of you, the thing that notices the changes in you remains the same. It is the part of you that was there when you were a baby, a child, a teen and now is here with you as an adult. And you know this because even though you are different you are the same person who was that baby, you are still you.
Mine sits back regally on a throne in the back of my mind, watching without a word as the rest of my self’s influence my experiences.
Sometimes it helps to have a physical representation of this observer self. Or maybe you just intuitively “get it”, you know this self well because you have spent time sitting quietly in solitude and felt its influence.
Try this exercise. Think of something negative that often comes up in your mind. Say it out loud if you are alone or in your head if not.
“I’m no good at this.”
Now say it again but add the statement “I’m having the thought…” right onto the front.
“I’m having the thought that I’m no good at this.”
What did you notice happened? Any difference?
Now say it again but add “I notice that I’m having the thought…” right on the front of your negative thought.
“I notice I’m having the thought that I’m no good at this.”
Did that change your relationship with the statement? Did it allow you to step back from the thought and see it as it is, a combination of letters made into words made into a statement that you can “notice rather then be“.
Step back from your thoughts and feelings and simply observe them without putting labels on them (good, bad, uncomfortable). You are not the statement, you are the one noticing the statement. Click to tweet! Spend today noticing your thoughts rather than holding onto them, place that distancing statement “I notice that I’m having the thought…” in front of them if it helps. Sit quietly for a few minutes and see if you can look at your experiences through the eyes of your observing self. Place the observer self physically in your mind if you need to, give it a name and a face or simply know that it is noticing. Then use it to experience a feeling or sensation completely objectively. Check in with your body and find where the emotion rests. “I notice the that I have an emotion in your stomach”. Watch that place and notice how your body reacts physiologically to this emotion. These are the things you know as fact, I notice my heart is pounding; I notice my chest is tight, I notice my belly is nauseous. Notice that your mind attempts to put labels on these feelings; anxiety, sadness, anger. Watch, notice, let go of judgement. The observing self is a hard concept and may take years of noticing before you really get it. Let me know in the comments if you want some more help understanding this aspect of mindfulness.
If you are deep in depression you will be wearing your emotional glasses all of the time. Your observing self doesn’t stand a chance. So all I ask of you is to spend five minutes a day removing the glasses and sit with yourself exactly as you are. Use facts to see yourself the way others see you. Write down a couple of things that you cannot dispute. You got up out of bed today even though you didn’t want to, that showed strength. You got a text message from a friend because despite what the glasses show you, someone does care about you. You did some really great work today even though you felt so terrible. You went to work today full stop, that was hard. Take the glasses off for five minutes and have an honest conversation with your observing self.
Photos from my trip to East Africa (Tanzania) and West Africa (Namibia).