Changes

Driving home from my dad’s on Father’s Day, I had some ideas come to me as I sat in the car, trapped between dark woods on one side and a quiet river on the other. When I had a chance, I scribbled some notes, and just now typed out my thoughts. So, here’s what came from being stuck in traffic for two hours on Father’s Day. 🙂  (first draft, very rough)


Changes

“In the middle of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.” ~ Dante

What happens when we awaken in Dante’s dark wood and find ourselves lost and confused in the middle of our life? How do we find the light again? The path? The way? Where do we go when we can no longer go home?

Although it feels as if we’re surrounded by darkness with no way to turn, we’re standing at the frontier of who we were and who we will become. The past always inhabits the now. Who we were, what we’ve done, who we’ve been in community with throughout our lives, goes into making the person we are now. But even that is fleeting. Who we are now is a fleeting moment which moves ahead into the future and backward into the past, simultaneously. Much like a rapidly flowing river viewed from the shore. Rivers drink from a deep and distant source, and as we find our way to that deep source in our own lives, we’ll find our life’s river gives generously to the landscape around us.

Ask yourself, what is “now” inviting you to do? Where is the current of the now asking you to go? Be impatient with trite explanations. We want the answers and the questions that bubble up from our river’s deep, undying, undrying source.

Perhaps this season of life is calling you to a time of silence. Of hibernation. A time of hiding. Time alone is a natural process. A bear hibernating through the winter. An injured animal taking time alone to heal. The stillness and quiet of a time of seclusion can bring greater self-knowledge. And self-knowledge can help lead us into – and through – the next frontier of our lives. Savor the aloneness.

Stop your life’s current conversation and listen. Is it superficial? Caught up in daily-ness and busyness? Be still. Quiet yourself. What is the big question of your life? The beautiful question? The essential or serious question? Find your question. What gives your life meaning? What lights your soul’s passion? Your essential question can be different at various times in your life. Don’t resurrect older questions, although your new question may be a variation on a theme.

Ask your own question, not someone else’s. When you find the question that’s hibernating in your heart, allow it to help you find your new voice. Let it welcome you into the new conversation of your life. Give it opportunity to lead you to your new identity.

Along with a new question and a new identity, you may find your entire life reorganized, including the community around you. This may be unnerving and a bit frightening. But do the brave thing.

Put your head down and make your way through the dark woods into the light of the next phase of your life. You’ll come to a place you don’t know, but in the process, you’ll come back to yourself.

~Debi

 

Mindfulness …


After a number of significantly difficult events, I’ve been meeting with a therapist for about two years.  She’s become like a best friend who has perfect listening skills. And I get to talk to my heart’s content. 🙂  Anyway, she recommended I attend Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT) classes to help me handle the overwhelming emotions I’d been experiencing related to the events of the past few years.  After several of my regular blog readers had asked about DBT, I decided I’d share some of the things I’ve been learning.  Just those things that have been particularly meaningful to me.  My sharing will probably be more storytelling than teaching, if that makes sense.


 

One of the most important parts of DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy), is learning to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is sort of a 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.

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, helps 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

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. Although sometimes it can be relaxing.

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 it can be practiced anywhere, at any time.

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

For a quick way to ease into practicing mindfulness, 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 the bubbles 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 then refocus 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 to be mindful of the present moment. I’m washing dishes. The water is warm. I just had a thought to pick up popcorn at the store. I refocus 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 an 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? Were 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 slowly, also noticing the processes of chewing and swallowing.

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

When we did this in class last week, I’d arrived to 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 body 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 as a dieting technique. Now I see it can also be used as a regular mindfulness technique to bring down heightened emotional and physical stress-related responses.

As I share things I’ve learned and experienced 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?

~Debi

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