Mindfulness aka It’s not about the scented candles, people.

Fathers’ Day was a bit of a punch in the gut this year. And I haven’t done anything about it, which is the absolute grace of a well mind. I have been able to use my handy-dandy Mindfulness skills and stay present enough with myself to notice the pain I’m feeling in any given moment, and name it what it is, which is”grief”, and not judge that grief by saying something to myself like “you should be over this by now, he’s been gone for over a year, and besides you were not the best wife that you could have been so why do you even think you deserve to grieve at all?”. It hurts like hell, but because I can be Mindful of that pain and not spin off into judgment, I have the power to choose how I want to proceed. So, I don’t choose eating too much, or eating too little, or numbing myself with substances. I do choose to cry, and call a friend, and hug my son and drive with the windows down and “I Drive Your Truck” by Lee Brice blaring at high volume. I get to choose to do these things because Mindfulness inserts a breath into my process. It allows me to pause, and to choose, rather than barreling ahead driven by addiction or compulsion or any of the other blinding experiences that cloud our ability to make choices that lead to wellness.

All of which is a rather rambling introduction to (drum roll)… Mindfulness. Mindfulness is, in my estimation, one of the most important and worst understood concepts in the world of wellness. Often, Mindfulness gets confused with Relaxation, and folks are encouraged to make time in their day to light a candle and sit in a quiet place and take deep breaths. Which is lovely, if you’ve got the time and are into that sort of thing, but it’s not Mindfulness (although, you can do any activity Mindfully, but that’s more digressing.) Here’s the problem, though. Without Mindfulness, there is no point. So it’s really, really, really important to understand what Mindfulness actually is. Here’s why:

Mindfulness means paying attention in the present moment without judgment. That’s it. That’s IT. Mindfulness is active, and it’s a commitment to a way of being that requires constant renewal and (shocker) attention. Mindfulness is something you DO. It’s a choice, made over and over and over again to pay attention, in the present moment, without judgment.

But what does that mean? Here’s a really gorgeous example provided to me by a client recently. See, there’s this bowl of candy on the receptionist’s desk in the office where my client works. Often, she explained, it’s filled with mints and of minimal consequence in her day. But sometimes, the receptionist fills the candy bowl with Reese’s peanut butter cups, which happen to be a food my client sincerely enjoys, judges to be bad, tries to avoid, and therefore tends to binge on. So, she went on, the other day she walked out of her office and saw the bowl filled with those little gold foil wrapped doom bombs, and felt craving, and an ensuing dread.

BUT, and here comes the Mindfulness, she has committed herself to the practice of staying present enough with herself in each moment of her life that she noticed these emotions (paying attention in the present moment) and named them. She did NOT name them “I’m a bad, gross weak person who should not want these candies and will totally not be able to avoid binge eating them because I’m a doomed failure and I’ll never ever recover from my eating disorder so why even try”. That would be judgment, and it’s how many of the people I work with tend to talk to themselves much of the time (often, that doesn’t go super well, btw). Instead, she named them WITHOUT judgment: that goes something like “Oh, I see that I am feeling craving and ensuing dread”.

I got pretty freaked out with joy about the awesomeness of this when my client shared with me. She has been working so hard, with deep commitment, for the last seven months to get to a place where she is Mindful enough during enough of her waking hours that she has space to make the choices she wants to make, choices that lead away from binge eating, and lead instead to wellness. In the instance above, she chose to hide in the mailroom and monitor her thoughts and feelings until she felt the craving pass.

That’s it. That’s “all” you have to do. Obviously, like most very simple things, this is quite challenging to pull off, but it is the only reliable way I know to be free, truly free, and able to make the choices that make the steps that make a path towards increasing wellness. Which makes it really, really, really worth it to practice your Mindfulness skills. They’re the Wheaties of Wellness.

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Pain & Suffering (aka Eating Too Much Food to Avoid Feeling Bad About Having Eaten Too Much Food)

What a cheery title. Who wants to think about pain & suffering? And yet, we human beings tend to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about pain and suffering: in fact, suffering, or dukkha is at the core of the first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. Not that you have to be Buddhist to be in pain. The point is that it’s universal. Pain is. From the first moment of birth, when infants cry because wtf, it was warm and safe and dark and now holy s#*t it’s cold and weird and very bright and who are all these people, we experience pain. From the simplest skinned knee when learning to ride a bicycle, to the heart rending grief felt at the death of a loved one, life hurts. It’s also fantastic. Like, really freaking great. But I’ll write about that another time. Today, it’s pain and suffering because things change and change is hard. We were feeling good and now we feel bad. Ouch!

BUT: (Hey, look, she’s getting to her point now), there is a huge and crucial difference between pain and suffering. They are not synonymous, at least not in my office, at least not in how I view and interact with the world. This is something I rant about to my clients all the time because if you can get this one, it’s a pretty magical key to a pretty sweet kingdom of way better.

Let’s start with pain. Wheeee! No, but really. Pain hurts. Pain is real. Physical, mental, emotional, pain can reach body, spirit and mind. For example, when my three year old son over-enthusiastically turns a corner in our house, slips on the rug, smacks his lip on the floor and splits it open (way to go, dude), that’s pain. He hollers “Mama, Mama, Mama!”, tears roll down his cute little cheeks and my heart breaks. AH HA! Heartbreak. Everyone’s favorite. Pain, or suffering?

This may sound harsh, but the heart break is my fault. It’s because of what I believe, which is that little dude should not hurt, should not feel pain, and should be always and perpetually ok because I love him and I’m his Mama and I’m going to save him from the world. Good luck, lady.

Heart break is suffering. Suffering, (with the getting to the point) is the experience we have when we fight the pain, get angry at the pain, stomp our little feet and shake our fists and say NO! This should not be. I do not like this pain, and I insist that the Universe get out it’s rule book and make some changes. No more pain, thanks. Again, good freaking luck.

And THAT is what I’m talking about. Pain, to repeat myself, is. Suffering does not have to be. It is possible to change one’s mind. This is very hard, and requires a lot of practice, like, every day, every minute, practicing and practicing and practicing (Hey! That’s what people call their mindfulness work. Practice. Whaddaya know.) The way we are trying to change our minds to move out of suffering into a space of acceptance and freedom is to stop fighting what is. The pain is not going to go away. But the suffering can go away if we let go of the belief that pain should not be. It’s that simple, and that complicated.

Here’s a look at how this works from a moment I shared with a client yesterday: She came into my office in tears because she feels “fat and disgusting”. That her body has changed is true; she has been binge eating for over a year and the food she has been using as a kind of one-size-fits-all pain fighting system is more than that body needs. For many people, especially if you have found your way to this post, this scenario is all too familiar. Using food in an effort to numb, stuff down, reject or avoid pain is at the heart of much of the disordered eating my clients report and that perhaps you yourself experience. And THAT is suffering. The work of change is to move from avoiding pain and trying to fight against it, with food, or booze, or overworking, to accepting pain. Pain is. That’s it. When the fight is gone, replaced by acceptance, than my client can feel the emotional pain of being in a larger body, and rather than (oh, the irony) eating too much food to avoid feeling bad about having eaten too much food, she can make a different choice. She can make many different choices. “Because why?”, as Mr. Three Years Old likes to ask. Because why? Because she is free. Free to choose to respond to pain in ways that lead away from suffering, not deeper into it.

When you stop fighting what is, you are free. It’s a platitude ascribed to about 14 different people (thanks, Google), but at the heart of my practice, both personally and professionally, is the true truth that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Which often makes my clients want to kick me in the shins, but it’s so worth it. It’s just pain, after all. Heh. That’s a joke. I make terrible jokes. But, I can accept that.

 

 

 

Welcome

I ate lunch today. It was pretty revolutionary, actually. It turns out I get hungry in the middle of the day. I know this because I listen to my body, now. I don’t starve it, I don’t stuff it, I don’t push it around until it collapses. I just listen, and when it tells me things, I say, gosh, that sounds like a good idea, let’s go with that. Like, say, lunch. Or a nap. Or a run. Or a snack. Or a hug. Or laughter, or yoga. You get the idea; no, probably you don’t get the idea. If you get the idea, you’re all set. You don’t need to read this. You have figured out the secret key to the universe of ok-ness. Which is learning how to listen to your body, and your heart, and your mind, and to discern who is talking and what they want and need and how to get it for them. It all starts with lunch. Or snacks. Or breakfast. Or whatever your most loaded and feared mealtime is. You know, the one you try to skip, religiously, because then you can feel safe and skinny and virtuous and ok? Or the one you avoid because it always seems to turn into a runaway train wreck of a binge eating? Yep. That one. It’s time to eat it.

Because it happens to be the case that you can eat good food when you’re hungry and still feel safe and virtuous and ok. In fact, you can feel those ways because you ate when you were hungry, and stopped when you were full. Over, and over and over again. The rest of the time, when you’re not eating, you’re going to have lots of other stuff going on. Thoughts, emotions, desires, fears… The point is that you’re listening. The point is that you can tell the difference between hungry for lunch and hungry for validation. You know if you’re legitimately living in a larger body than is healthy for you and weight loss is a sane goal, or if there’s something else you’re afraid of that is masquerading behind the belief that “I’m fat.”

It used to be the case that I didn’t have any of this figured out. I was constantly terrified, and I didn’t know myself, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to. I did more damage to my own body and soul than the world ever had, and the world had done a pretty good job at that point. But, I learned to stop. I had an eating disorder, and then I had another one, just for good measure, and then I stopped. I put those beliefs and behaviors down, and lived my way into a body and life that I love, and respect. You can have this, too. Really. It’s not too late, no matter what time it is. I promise.

It is not necessarily the case that everyone who struggles with a warped relationship with food and their bodies has a diagnosable eating disorder, by the way. You don’t have to be disordered in a diagnosable way to be suffering, and I am not a huge fan of allowing people to hold onto their suffering, which is, by the way, different from pain. But, we’ll get to that. What I’m trying to get at here is that this is for anyone who wants to take a second look at the way they eat and the way they live in their embodied life. This is especially for people who would like to feel more freedom, more confidence and more joy. As opposed to other people, who don’t want those things? Silly. I’m being silly. I do that. Anyway, my point is that if you think you need this, you do. So, there’s that. Welcome, you are, as Yoda would say.