By Yolanda Golebiowski, BSN, RC-BC, RAC-CT, CDP, Eden Associate
Practicing Mindfulness is as any training we decide to engage in. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not become overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.1 Most of us are familiar with the Buddhist form of meditation, as well as the Contemplative Psychotherapy training, we foster mindfulness in a sitting position, cross-legged. Being in the present is more than seeking a quite space to meditate; it is the key to overcoming distress, negativity, and helps to understand the present moment and program in ourselves a sense of that which is right.
When we are mindful, we show up for our lives; we do not miss them in being distracted or in wishing for things to be different. Instead, if something needs to be changed we are present enough to understand what needs to be done. Being mindful is not a substitute for actually participating in our lives or profession and taking care of our own and other’s needs. In fact, the more mindful we are, the more skillful we can be in compassionate action.2
Our brains are assembled with the amygdala and limbic system to notice threats; these active parts of the brain are cognitive in nature. Whether we are a person that sees an empty glass, a glass half full or ready to enjoy the drink. We must remember that, we are not made by our thoughts.
Mindfulness is not obscure or exotic. It’s familiar to us because it’s what we already do, how we already do, how we already are. It takes many shapes and goes by many names. Buddha taught that the source of suffering is our attempt to escape from our direct experience. First, we cause ourselves suffering by trying to get away from
pain and attempting to hang on to pleasure. Unfortunately, instead of quelling our suffering or perpetuating
out happiness, this strategy has the opposite effect. Instead of making us happier, it causes us to suffer.
Second, we cause suffering when we try to prop up a false identity usually known as ego, this, too does not
help and leads to suffering.3
Remember that time you really embarrassed yourself, and you play it over and over in your head, cringing
a little each time? Or how about your inabilities to ask for a raise or promotion you deserve because you
have told yourself so many times you are not worth it? You let it stew, creating resentment that is a product
of your own doubts.
Repeated negative thought patterns are a strangely comfortable nemesis we keep at all times, if for no other
reason than that they are familiar. Yet, intuitively, you understand that replaying a cringe worthy historical
event repeatedly in your head is unhelpful, if not harmful. Similarly, telling yourself that you are not worth
the raise when the underlying driving force is that you have a terrible sense of self worth is nothing more
than a negative thought pattern that can be quite destructive.
How does one break these patterns? Mindfulness continues to be a source of research and how it affects
our behavior. Some recent research about mindfulness looked at the effect of mindfulness on negative
thought patterns. Mindfulness is a useful tool for noticing and extracting yourself from the cycle of unhelpful
Dr. John Paul Minda is a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario,
who studies cognition and thinking as well as mindfulness. Minda pointed to some recent research by
Lindsay and Cresswell on mindfulness and attention monitoring. “One possibility is that mindfulness
meditation can help people to be more attentive to their own emotions,” he said. “By being aware of negative
feelings as soon as they arise, people can engage in positive remediation rather than dwelling on the
negative cognition.” By cultivating mindfulness, we can learn to identify the negative thoughts that keep
us trapped in feelings of self-doubt and shame, and learn instead to embrace the peacefulness that stems
from living in the present moment. Mindfulness is also know as emotional intelligence.
As nurses we take in everyone’s problems and many forms of negativity surround us. This creates feeling
of vulnerability and threats that take a toll on our emotional wellbeing. Whether it is a person worrying
about consequences contemplated at work, or relationships in general, these feelings stem from our human
brains reacting in all cases. Stephen Colbert’s satirical book titled March to Keep Fear Alive depicts how
humans embraced fear in order to survive as our ancestors did. The article in Psychology Today also makes
reference to our brain reactions being a product of our evolution. As it turns out, the negativity bias aided
our ancestors in making intelligent decisions in high risk situations.
Understanding our brain reaction and not permitting to be hijacked by fear is the first step to mindfulness.
Then, by cultivating a mindful awareness to how your brain reacts to feeling threatened, we can simulate
and therefore build up the neural substrates of a mind that has more calm, wisdom and sense of inner
strength. A mind that sees real threats more clearly, acts more effectively in dealing with them, and it is less
rattled or distracted by exaggerated, manageable, or false alarms.5
Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist and psychologist, gives three simple steps to mindfulness:
- Look for good facts and turn them into good positive experiences.
- Making a conscious effort to look for positive aspects in every experience and practicing every day, it will become a habit.
- Savor the experience
- Attend to positive experiences, by elongating our positive sensations, we allow more neurons to fire and wire together in response to the positive stimulus. This solidifies the experience in our memories.
- Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you
- Being aware of how the different positive experiences affect us, we have cultivated emotional intelligence.
One cannot be emotionally intelligent without mindfulness of one's emotions and without sound and consistent emotional intelligence, one's happiness is merely a mirage in the desert, seen but never truly reached.
Yolanda Golebiowski is Director of Nursing at Parker at Monroe.
Photo Credit: Thomas Galvez, Flickr