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.