Getting Back to the Basics of Mindfulness
Recently, I noticed I was having problems keeping track of time. Not clock time, as in being a little early or showing up too late. But calendar time — the past weeks and months of living in lockdown have caused my days to morph together. I knew I was doing things, I just couldn’t remember what they were.
It was a déjà vu feeling for me, similar to what I felt during the months following my ALS diagnosis. At the time, I fixated on my doctor’s predictions of having only three years to live. Leaving that office, I imagined an expiration date had been stamped on my forehead. I put my life on hold and parked my mind in my own ALS waiting room. Pay attention to what I was doing? Why bother?
But now, a full decade later, I am still here. And I’m so glad I decided to learn to live in the now and be mentally present for every moment. Practicing mindfulness became a valuable coping strategy that helped me push back my mental walls of ALS and continue to engage in life.
But the recent global health crisis has been distracting, and I admit I let my mindfulness practice slide. So, it was back to basics for me.
Practice being present
Practicing mindfulness is easier when there are fewer distractions pulling at our attention. Eating, simple exercises, deep breathing, or bathing are good activities to pair with starting to experience mindfulness.
Conversations become more meaningful and interactions with others are easier to remember when we’re in a mental state of mindfulness.
Mindfulness can also be called “awareness of the present moment.” Here’s a quick example: While you are reading this sentence, become aware of the sounds around you. Feel the warmth in the palms of your hands and be aware of your feet and toes. Continue reading while hearing, feeling hands and feet, and being aware of all existing at the same time.
How to learn mindfulness
I knew that meditating was an excellent way to learn to be mindful. But I didn’t always have the time to meditate. On those days, I used a program developed by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer called “Active Mindfulness.” It’s a kind of fast-track method; instead of practicing how to be mindful, you just do it!
Langer’s program has both psychological and physical benefits for ALS patients. I wrote about her studies with ALS patients in a previous column titled “The Power of One Resolution.”
Another excellent resource I turned to was the book “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle. His book covers the practical aspects of meditation and how to transition being in the present moment to daily living.
Now I’m happily paying attention, have no more lost days, and am focusing on what I’m doing. Worry about the future? Why bother!
I invite you to make mindfulness a daily practice. It’s one more positive coping strategy in our pursuit to live well while living with ALS.
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