I first started to use mindfulness in a purposeful way in the early 90s when I was facilitating two hospital outpatient, day treatment programs for individuals with eating disorders. It was the best antidote to the automatic quality of the eating disorder process. If a person could get into the present moment in their relationship with food then she could have more control over what action she took. She could engage her own inner strength to see herself with fuller clarity, and make present moment-to moment choices about the feelings and habitual reaction patterns underlying her disordered eating.
My favorite author on this subject is a Vietnamese Zen master named Thich Nhat Hanh. He has written and spoken about “the art of living mindfully” since the 60s. My favorite book of his, Peace is Every Step, talks about how to live mindfully in everyday life. I often suggest it for couples to read when they are attempting to increase their positive communication skills. Each of his vignettes offer new perspectives on how to interact in the everyday world.
Mindfulness can have the enlightening effect of shifting one’s perspective. Often by reframing how your look at a situation you can then change your action in the situaiton. Re-framing is a great term to describe the process of paradigm shifting. A paradigm is a frame, a way in which information is inputted or interpreted. When one re-frames then the information is inputted or interpreted differently – that allows for a change in action in relation to a situation, and in my experience an increase in a compassionate interpretation and action.
As an example, Thich Nhat Hanh’s vignette about “Hope” . He writes that hope is important, because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. But that is the most that hope can do for us- to make some hardship lighter……he goes on to discuss the tragic nature of hope…..since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future…..Hope becomes a kind of obstacle. (pg 41 in Peace is every step). He reframes the concept of hope so that rather than helping to create the change, hope becomes an obstacle to our actual opportunities, capacities and actions for change in the present moment.
The thing is that we can only change what we can identify; and we can only use the tools presently available to us. By taking ourselves out of the present moment (hoping) we put ourselves into the future (hope for something better to come) where we have no actual power. Our only power over the future is in the present and what we do in the present. How we act in the present can change the future but waiting for change (living in the future) puts us into a passive, unempowered role.
Living mindfully is the most empowering tool available to us for actual change. Seeing our world for what it is and taking action with the strengths we actually have increase our empowerment.
So try this. Try to figure out what thinking, or doing you currently accept as “truth” (a belief system – Like: I am not smart, or I need this person to survive) that doesn’t actually describe you or your situation- and see if you can reframe how you look at that “truth” so that it allows present moment information, for real empowerment in your life. Hint: it will be something that’s been around a long time, it may be something that you feel defines you, and you will be surprised.
See you tomorrow.