Using Mindfulness Every Day
Updated: Oct 31
This blog post is written by Melissa Barsotti, LCSW, a private practice therapist in San Diego, California, specializing in complex trauma, dissociation, and harm OCD.
In a nutshell, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in a non-judgmental and compassionate way. This kind of attention is often referred to as the observing mind. When you are observing, you are not reacting. Mindfulness is also about intentionally changing your attitude to embrace letting go of what you can't control (the past, the future, and others, and allowing yourself to have and experience a range of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations without judgment. Dr. Jamie Marich highlights 7 primary attitudes of mindfulness: non-judging, patience, beginner's mind (approaching each new task with an open mind), trust (in your internal self), non-striving (letting go of the end goal and instead focusing on the process; letting whatever happens happen), acceptance (coming to terms with reality, no matter how harsh or unpleasant it may be), and letting go.
Let me guide you through an exercise. Gather a bowl and fill it with rocks or beads, whatever you can find lying around your house. Sit with this bowl on your lap.
Here are the instructions, but just listen for now:
You will pick up a rock when any thought/picture/emotion/body sensation/or urge comes to your mind. Pick up a rock and move it to the other side of the bowl, or bring the rock out of the bowl, next to you on the ground.
Before you begin this practice, please note the following:
1. breathe as you normally would through your nose, and out through your mouth, gently making a sound with your outbreath, such as the sound of the wind or ocean. If possible, make your outbreath longer than your in-breath.
2. Embrace the attitude of an observer. Imagine that every thought, feeling, body sensation, urge, or picture is a bird or cloud floating above or past you. Your only task here is to observe all that passes through. If there is criticism and judgment, observe that too. No thought/feeling/body sensation/urge/ or picture is good/bad/positive/negative/right/wrong/black/ or white. Everything that comes in to your conscious mind is just stimuli to be looked at. Information that we are NOT analyzing, problem-solving, categorizing, or criticizing.
3. Set your timer for just one minute and begin.
What was your experience? In my experience, I notice that when I practice this, I am just observing and not reacting to my emotions or thoughts. Instead, I am allowing myself to have a choice of where I would like to divert my energy towards.
A general guideline I incorporate into my daily practice is making efforts to bring my mind to where my body is. If your body is at work, but your mind can't stop thinking about the verbal argument you had with your partner, you can make the choice to let go and bring your attention to your body and your environment. If you are not literally on the phone or in person, or video-chatting with your partner to mend things, then let that problem go. Bring your mind and energy to where your body is. Similarly, if you are tossing and turning in bed and you can't stop thinking about work, you can consider this: if you are literally not going to get up and write out an email, get on the phone, or start working, then choose to let go of work. Instead, focus on where your body is, such as the feel and smell of your sheets, the sounds and temperature in your room, the sound of your breath, etc.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice that the medical and psychological professions have fully embraced as effective in lowering stress. Mindfulness is a practice that takes practice to regularly incorporate into the way you choose to live your life...every moment of your life. A fun way to start incorporating mindfulness, is to practice using it when you are eating, exercising, engaging in intimacy with a partner, playing with your children. The applications and benefits of mindfulness are endless. Here are some book suggestions to help get you started on incorporating mindfulness into your daily life:
Marich, J. (2013). Creative Mindfulness: 20+ Strategies for Wellness and Recovery. Warren, OH: Cornersburg Media/Mindful Ohio.