Mindfulness …

One of the most important parts of DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy), is learning to practice mindfulness.  Mindfulness is sort of buzz word these days. and I’ve discovered different people can mean different things when they say they practice mindfulness, so I’m just going to explain what I mean by mindfulness which I think is pretty close to what DBT means by it, although it’s always possible to misread things when you have so many ideas bombarding you from the media and various self-help outlets.

Since DBT’s main purpose is to help people regulate their emotions, mindfulness plays a key part. in that process.  It allows a person to stay grounded in the moment, to stay in touch with each moment’s reality, and by staying in touch with the here and now, helping us take time to breathe and gain control of emotional reactions.

Goals of Mindfulness (in DBT)

  • reduce suffering (we can’t reduce life events, but we can reduce our responses to life events which can alleviate some of our suffering)
  • reduce anxiety, tension, stress
  • increase control of your mind by decreasing worrying, overthinking, ruminating

At this point you may be asking, “What is mindfulness?”

My short definition is that mindfulness is intentional awareness of the present moment.  It shouldn’t be confused with mindlessness (or emptying the mind).  It’s a matter of focus to keep you grounded in the here and now.  Observation is the goal, not relaxation.

There are a lot of mindfulness practices that are taught and even apps to help lead people through the process of being mindful.  One of my favorite parts about practicing mindfulness, however, is that can be practice anywhere at any time.

  • washing dishes
  • listening to music
  • walking
  • housecleaning
  • painting
  • hobbies
  • bathing
  • weeding

I remember a popular book in the 70s called Be Here Now.  The title is basically the whole idea of mindfulness.  Be here.  In this moment.  Fully experience it.

Choose one of the items on the above list and next time you do it, take a couple of deep slow breaths. Then focus on your body’s sensations.  Are you washing dishes?  Feel the warmth of the water on your hands. Does it feel good? Is the water too hot?  Too cold?  Feel the sensation of bubbles on your lower arms. Does it tickle?  Do they feel soft?  Smell the scent of dishwashing liquid. What smell is it?  Lemon?  Orange? Listen to the sounds of the water running into the sink from the faucet.  Is it a soft trickle?

If you find yourself being distracted by thoughts or emotions, just acknowledge the thought/emotion, and focus on your breathing and other sensations again.  The goal isn’t to never have your mind wander or never to experience emotions or never have thoughts.  The goal is just be mindful of the present moment.  I’m washing dishes.  The water is warm.  I just had a thought that I need to pick up popcorn at the store.  I refocused my thoughts back to the dishes.

The purpose of practicing mindfulness throughout the day when you’re not under stress or feeling strong emotions is so that when you actually are in heightened emotional state, the skills will have become almost second-nature through your on-going practice of the skills.

Every week in our DBT classes, we practice at least two mindfulness activities together.  Last week we did a mindful eating activity.  A bowl of snack items was passed around, everyone chose one, and then we proceeded to mindfully eat our item.  Mine was a small wrapped chocolate candy bar.  We were to look at the food item as if we were an alien from outer space who’d never seen it before.  What did the wrapper look like?  Was it shiny?  Dull?  What colors?  Where there designs on it?  What did the wrapper feel like?  Smooth?  Ridged?  What was it like opening the wrapper?  What did it feel like?  Did it make a sound?  Did you smell anything?  Take the candy out of the wrapper.  What does it look like?  Smell like?  Examine it thoroughly like you did with the wrapper.  Take a tiny bite.  Don’t chew or swallow.  What does it feel like in your mouth?  Smooth?  Hard?  Rough?  Does it melt in your mouth?  Allow yourself to slowly move it around in your mouth, and when ready, chew and swallow, also noticing the processes of chewing and swallowing.

So that probably seems like a long even just to take a single bite of a candy bar.  It actually only took about two or three minutes.

When we did this in class last week, I’d arrived at class a couple of minutes late, I’d had a stressful morning, and I was even a bit out of breath from walking quickly into the building from my car.

After doing the mindful eating exercise, I realized I was calm and ready to be fully engaged in the class.  Mindful eating grounded me in the moment, and allowed me to focus on something so intently, that it gently pushed aside the stresses of the morning.  My breathing was calm, my mind felt focused, my felt grounded.

It was such a simple thing, but it worked wonders.  I knew about the idea of mindful eating, but I’d always thought of it as a trick for eating more slowly and thoughtfully to use as a dieting technique.  Now I see it can also be used as regular mindfulness technique to bring down heightened emotional and physical stress-related responses.

As I share things I’ve learned and experience through DBT classes, I’ll probably return to this idea of mindfulness frequently, sharing examples of various ways it’s proven helpful to me.

Thoughts?  Questions?  Have you had any experience with mindfulness practice?


Ideas and quiet …


I went to take sunset photos the other day, but the sunset was being a little bit boring.  This little dog, however, was being adorable.

I used to get my best ideas while quietly washing dishes by hand or doing other household chores. But a couple of years ago I started listening to music – loud music! – because I didn’t want to be alone with my own thoughts. Too traumatic and depressing. The music helped me get through the housework without breaking down crying, but it seemed it also drowned out the ideas that used to percolate during those quiet times of repetitive actions that I previously found inspiring and fruitful.

Fast forward to today.

I realized in the middle of cleaning my kitchen that I’d been having ideas again. Writing ideas, art ideas, general life ideas. It was a little bit startling to have my brain spontaneously generating new ideas again.

I stopped cleaning and just stood in the kitchen thinking about how inspired I was feeling, and then I realized it was very quiet. I hadn’t turned on the music. I’d just been going about my business in peace and quiet again.

So, I had two exciting realizations today. 1) Ideas were still there, they just needed some peace and quiet to germinate, and 2) I’ve healed enough emotionally that I can be left alone with my thoughts!

I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s a way to talk about the things that have caused me so much pain and grief the past two years, but it’s important to me to share without sharing about other people in a negative way. As I was wiping down the stovetop, I had ideas about ways to share my story while still being considerate of others. So there might possibly be some posts in the future about things I’ve been holding close to the chest. It’s a challenge to share heartache brought on by the actions of others without making it turn into a she-said-(s)he-said type of thing, or a blame game.

Anyway, I was taking a short break from housework and thought I’d share my thoughts. I’m a little bit excited. Depending on how things go, I may end up being a lotta bit excited. 😉

We’ll talk later …


Looking for the lesson in a photo …

This is a rather odd post, but I have been looking at this photo for over a week trying to decipher the message/lesson/parable or whatever it could represent.

I was taking photos in Tacoma, Washington last week, and my friend and I stopped to visit the historic Union Station building.  They have a number of glass art objects by Dale Chihuly on display.  I liked the orange glass displays on one of the windows and I enjoyed how the light was shining through each piece.

I took this close up photo, but didn’t realize there was a flag in the composition until I was at home later on looking at the photos on my computer.  I was thrilled with the accidental composition that was hiding in plain sight.

So what’s the lesson in this?  It seems like there’s something.  Maybe something like you don’t always see what’s hiding in the background of your life until later when you have a different perspective?  Or, don’t be so focused on the obvious things that you miss the subtler things going on in the background?  Or, glass is transparent?  😉

Does it speak to anyone else?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, inspirations, meditations, wise cracks, etc.