Aside from cycling, you have probably noticed a heavy presence of mindfulness throughout my site. As a young clinical social worker in NYC I often find myself utilizing mindfulness throughout my practice. It is not a technique per se, but a foundation from which all great social work can be built. Not only do I utilize mindfulness in my social work, but in my own life as well.
Someone who is not familiar may be asking; What is it? How do I even do it? I am not a monk so how can I be mindful? Is it some mystical practice? All these questions are valid, but the answer is quite simple.
Essentially, mindfulness is the practice of setting aside worries about the past and/or future and simply existing in the present. However, being able to do this is far from simple though. We are complex creatures with thoughts, worries, burdens, regrets, fears, and an ever-expanding mind that often feels overloaded. All of this “baggage” can make it seem impossible to focus on the here and now, but it is not. In fact, being in the present doesn’t mean you forget all your worries. It is the practice of grounding yourself, clearing your mind, and properly preparing yourself to deal with all your baggage, whatever that may be.
Mindfulness creates a space for each of us to reflect on our current state. It can ground us if you will. We are often flooded with worries and stress that have a constant negative impact on our well-being. This can be detrimental to the people around us and to ourselves. Moreover, the worries and stress are usually related to factors that we have no control over.
Let me utilize Snowmageddon to solidify how mindfulness works. Let’s say it’s around 7:57 PM. You are sitting around sipping coffee and watching TV. As you sit your mind begins to spin. You have no idea whether or not you will be called into work tomorrow. You have no idea what it will be like outside when you wake up. You have no idea if you will lose power. You have no idea if you will run out of food. You have no idea if the subways will be running. You have no idea if your friends and family will be ok and so on and so forth. At the same time you remember your unfinished notes at work. You remember the voicemails you could not get to. You remember the emails you forgot to read. You remember the client you forgot to thank. You remember the to do list that is now 5 days overdue. You remember the meeting you have to schedule and so on and so forth.
All of a sudden your relaxing snow day has become a tremendously stressful anxiety session. Your mind is running and you can’t keep up. This is exactly where mindfulness would come into play. You would not necessarily dismiss all the worries mentioned above, but you would remember that there is nothing you can possibly due in this very moment. Worrying is doing nothing, but damage. Also remember that you have made it to where you are at because of a unique set of skills you possess. You will most likely be able to resolve your worries when given the opportunity. With this thought in mind you can begin to relax and be in the moment. Some people practice breathing techniques, others will close their eyes and meditate.
Once you have started to focus on the moment, you can begin to understand how you are actually experiencing the here and now. Remember that you are at home with snow falling all around you. You have a roof over your head. You are essentially being forced to set work aside. You can relax, it’s ok. As you begin to reflect on the moment it will become solidified. You will actually feel yourself easing up and your mind clearing. You will be freed from worries and stress that have been burdensome and unproductive.
This technique takes much practice. At first, you may only be able to relax for a minute at a time before your worries come rushing back. That’s ok. With consistency you will become better. You will learn to lose yourself in the moment more easily.
Again, mindfulness does not dispose of or eliminate worry. It creates a space to develop more strength to deal with stress to the best of your abilities. So go ahead, set aside what you cannot control in the moment, and begin to control what you can……..yourself.