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Keep Calm and Be Mindful? Part One

Quit Telling Me to Keep Calm….I’m Mindful of It!

I’m hardly a fan of these ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm’ posters, just because you see them almost everywhere and almost anything goes after the first two words. Or maybe it is because I have an aversion to the words “keep calm”. The reason is simple.

It gets personal, almost always when people around me start telling me to be calm when I’m about to explode or implode. The well-meaning colleagues, friends and loved ones around me have been sensitized to my moods, dislikes and can easily spot how my temper gets ignited. I am not going to deny it – my temper is not high (but it is seeing better days now). And the toughest part of it all is that I am caught between showing my anger and concealing it, simply because I worry about how others view and judge me. So either way, it seems like I faced a losing battle for a long time.

Sometime last year, my close friend Erin mentioned that she was pursuing a Masters of Science in Studies in Mindfulness and I was a little too polite to express my inner thoughts of “why on earth would anyone study a subject like that?” I kept my opinion to myself and heard more from her about the practice of mindfulness and realized that she was very committed to it.

Seven months ago, she invited me to attend a session on mindfulness, and I am glad I kept an open mind despite not knowing what to expect from it. It introduced the key concepts of mindfulness and explained the stereotypical views attached to the practice of mindfulness. There, I decided to give it more thought, and before I knew it, there seemed to be an exponential growth in articles, media coverage and talk about mindfulness everywhere I looked. If you’re keen on finding out more about how to practice mindfulness and its benefits, you would be pleasantly surprised to know that there are many options available in Ohio. Just check out the three possible resources links here:  

Mindfulness: A Matter of Myth and Fact

It became clear to me that mindfulness as a practice was gaining currency in education, mental wellness and the corporate spheres where thousands of articles were written recommending best practices maximizing the value and benefits. But the underlying premise seems to radiate from oneself. I am certainly no scholar or trainer in mindfulness, so the focus of this article is merely to share how mindfulness has helped me in being kinder to myself by intentionally keeping an open mind regarding how I manage my thoughts, emotions, and actions, especially in coping with stress and relating to others.

I started by finding out as much as I could about mindfulness and cleared up some of the previous misconceptions that I had, such as:

  • Myth: mindfulness is synonymous with religious practices, fact: it is widely practiced across the secular world.
  • Myth: mindfulness is all fluff and worthy of attention only if you have too much time on your hands, fact: practicing it does, in fact, save you more time, headache and heartache.
  • Myth: mindfulness is a flavor of the month and a passing phase, fact: it has been around for as long as 2500 years.
  • Myth: mindfulness can be a perfect panacea to all your problems, fact: there is no such thing – mindfulness is a valuable tool to complement stress and problem-solving techniques (medical or non-medical).

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, “mindfulness” is defined as awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” says Kabat-Zinn. “It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”

As I read this quote, a few keywords jumped out at me, and I thought it fitting to describe my experience with mindfulness based on them.

What is Mindfulness?

Keeping Yourself In Mind

  • ‘Mindfulness is awareness…on purpose.’Being aware is simply a state of being conscious about something, being informed or attentive. Achieving awareness of purpose suggests a keen intent to direct that sense of awareness. In other words, taking the effort (and time) to be meaningfully conscious of facts, events, people or anything in our surrounding.As an educator and communications practitioner for the past two decades, I have met countless individuals who could have benefitted so much, just by increasing their awareness of the things and people around them. These people include 50-year-old team managers as well as 17-year-old youths who face challenges being mindful of their environments and their struggles with stress. Often, awareness is the last state of mind they want to embrace because it’s hard work and the truth sometimes hurts. Almost always, these individuals genuinely believe that they are aware of the problems they face but are very reluctant to consider their options in solving these issues and making small changes. I know because I’ve been there.It’s no mean feat being aware of your authentic self- perhaps because we doubt that we know ourselves well and we struggle to accept all of ourself. As part of this state of purposeful awareness, I have chosen to discuss two sub-components of consciousness, namely self-awareness and self-compassion as these two aspects seem vital to opening up to oneself before practicing mindfulness.Self-awareness: try walking in someone else’s shoes?One of the things that typically irk me when feedback (usually negative) is provided, is when the accompanying comment is “please don’t take this personally because it’s not.” My internal response to that used to be “HOW CAN IT NOT BE PERSONAL WHEN IT IS ABOUT ME????” yes, in full SCREAMING UPPERCASE.

    It was hard, and I needed to calm down, I just didn’t need to hear it coming from someone else. So I asked myself:

  • If hearing from someone else was so difficult, could I take it coming from myself? Well, I would never know unless I tried it. So I did – and it took some time being mindful that this was when my sense of empathy kicked in, both for others and more importantly, for myself. I wanted to intentionally consider the reasons and feelings of others when processing my emotional responses before taking any action.
  • Am I able to walk in someone else’s shoes and see their view? To do that, I needed to get comfortable in mine for starters. So I would honestly explore my emotions and actions and whether there were certain emotional minefields triggered with the feedback. After all, that knowledge would only be transparent to me, based on my experiences, upbringing, and beliefs.
  • Can I be humble enough to consider the reasons that the specific feedback was shared, to begin with? If I considered the intention and behavior of the sender (of the feedback) and I was able to see that the motivation was to build me up rather than tear me down – it became a lot clearer that I was better off moving forward rather than moping around. The litmus factor that helped here was to consider the sender’s relationship with me (either professionally or personally) to help discern their intentions either over a period of time or from a one-time session.

To be continued…..

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