SIDE BAR: Small rant–can someone tell the media that military people are not the only ones with PTSD? Survivors of sexual abuse often have it too, and since that is 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men, I think we are worthy of mention. OK..rant complete. Back to the post.
That post was very timely for me because I had been asking myself the same question, how can I explain what mindfulness is for me? Is my answer “correct”. I don’t know.
Here is my disclaimer, I only started learning about Mindfulness mediation a few months ago. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, or even qualified for novice level. But it has had such an impact on my life that I want to share my experiences, such as they are.
When I started reading about Mindfulness in Geneen Roth’s book Women, Food and God, and in a couple other places…I thought, “Yes! This is very similar to some really helpful things I have learned in therapy. I want to learn more about this.”
For me, Mindfulness is grounding. It stops time-travel. You probably think I’m joking about the time-travel, but I’m not. With PTSD, triggers can catapult you into the past. The emotions, feelings and terror is there as if you had literally gone back in time.
Through therapy I have learned to be more aware of the signs of being triggered. When I start to feel my breath quickening, and my muscles tensing, I know I have to act quickly. I have to be Mindful in order to stay in the present moment and not time travel.
I believe it was Jon Kabat Zinn (a master on Mindfulness) that taught me, through his writing, that we are often thinking about the past or the future, and rarely about the present moment. (We could call this another form of time-travel, couldn’t we?) It is important to make time in our busy lives to stop and be in the moment we are in.
When I recognize that I am feeling triggered, I focus all my concentration on the present moment: the sounds I hear, for example right now, I hear the clicking of keys on a keyboard…it is a rhythmic comforting sound, otherwise the room is blissfully quiet. I feel the room around me. I check in with how I am feeling in my body. And for me, most helpful is to find something beautiful to focus on. Right now that would be a picture on my wall of boats sitting idly in the water, waiting. I love the colors and I love the serenity that the artist captured. Later, when I am calmer, I try to discern what triggered me and talk about it with my therapist.
But you don’t have to have PTSD to benefit from Mindfulness. It can bring more joy to everyday life for anyone who tries it. For example, one day I was feeling tired, stressed and a bit anxious. This was everyday stuff that anyone might feel. Then I remembered Mindfulness. “Be in the moment you are in, Leslie.”
At that moment I was in a chess class I teach at my kid’s home school co-op. The room was buzzing with laughter and talking (and you thought chess was a quiet game!). I looked around at my eighteen students having fun playing chess. I love chess (though I am a self-proclaimed chess klutz). And I love sharing chess with kids. I thought, “Wow, I did this. I brought these kids together and look what a great time they are having.”
Suddenly, I didn’t feel stressed, tired or anxious. I felt great! Even now writing about that moment brings back the joy of it.
However you define it, Mindfulness is powerful. If you want more joy in your life, give it a try.