You’ve heard this word, Mindfulness, being tossed around a lot these days. Working definition: “A human capacity of being aware of one’s own mind, body and surroundings, as well as practices that cultivate that capacity. There are a wide variety of “practices” taken from Buddhism that have been studied for their effectiveness in creating “focused attention” or “open monitoring” of one’s states and processes. Teachers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. have made these practices generic and available to the broader public so that we can all benefit from the greater effects of these practices on one’s well-being. He created MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, so that anyone can learn how to be mindful over a period of 8 weeks. More recently, researchers like Daniel Goldman and Richie Davidson have determined that mindful meditation practice over time can have long-lasting impacts such as cultivating selflessness, equanimity, and compassion. More specifically, Mindfulness practice can help you bypass the reactivity that happens when we are stressed (helps you calm your amygdala or Lizard brain) and can help you work with your mind and your thoughts in a productive and less reactive way.
Why is this helpful? Learning to bypass the way that our Lizard part of our brains are focusing on seeking out the negative and danger in our world, and noticing the way our brains are always in “Default Mode” scanning for how we can assert ourselves or solve a problem we notice, can help reduce our stress. Our brains are programmed to look for what’s wrong in our world and survival– not what is good or going well. Over time, this creates tremendous stress and negative thinking and takes us away from our hearts and our natural capacity to love each other. Research shows that by meditating over time, we can deactivate this Default Mode both while meditating and in a resting state. (Raichle, 2001 & Taylor et al, 2012).
Coming back to our humanity, our hearts, and our ability to focus on the goodness inside of us, is a huge benefit of Mindfulness. Imagine our world if everyone was less reactive and more in their hearts? Plus there is ample research that shows it reduces stress and creates more productivity in our lives.
So here’s an example of how Mindfulness can help you as a Woman in Midlife.
Meet Jessica: At age 52, she is struggling in her 19 year marriage and can’t decide if leaving her husband is the right choice. Their relationship has been going downhill for the last 5 years, as he has lost his last company and hasn’t been able to find the next step to go back to work. While her husband agreed to take over as the “house husband,” they don’t seem to have clear expectations of each other and how they each do tasks at home and parenting the 2 teenagers. Jessica has continued to do the accounting and bookkeeping work that she has done for 20 years, making good money and she has a long list of clients. She has said to me she is bored with this work and has felt like it was a “wasteland” for many years, but is driven to keep making her financial goals for herself and now as the only breadwinner, she is pushing herself to find more clients and taking herself into work overload.
When I asked Jessica what is stressing her she says, “He is! He doesn’t do his job here and he doesn’t look for work. — He sits upstairs in his office and mopes and doesn’t come down and be with the kids, and doesn’t make dinner or go shopping. He only does it when he wants to and I can’t depend on him to put food on the table for the kids. So when I come home, the house is a mess and dinner isn’t made.” I just need to divorce him and move on. But, she came back the next week saying he’s being nice now and doing his part. She was so confused about what to do.
Jessica made a commitment to come to coaching and to join my Women’s Self-Compassion Group. She wanted help to decide what to do with this situation and her unhappiness in her life. Because she knows how to set goals and work towards something, these skills really helped her in this new arena of getting coaching help. I helped her set some goals and she set out writing TO DO lists to try to accomplish these goals. In the group, we focus only on “practices” and learning how TO BE with our feelings and how to slow down in the present moment so we can notice what is happening in and around our minds and bodies. This mode of being with ourselves, slowing down and noticing, is hard for a lot of us. It was really challenging for Jessica who has spent so much of her life as a woman focusing on everyone else and the world outside of her and being successful by doing that. And the way she has been successful has been pushing herself TO DO as much as she can. Sound familiar?
The rest of the group members helped Jessica slow down and try to do the practices, even though she was so resistant. When she saw how they were helping the other women get clarity about what they were feeling and then be able to identify the issues they as women were struggling with, she began to see the value of this process of BEING with yourself.
As we learn to notice our own struggles, our painful ways we run ourselves ragged doing what we think we are supposed to do instead of what we really want to do, we can begin to make changes in our lives. This is what happened to Jessica. She saw she wasn’t getting anything done on her TO DO LIST that was for her, like meditation or yoga or eating healthy. She noticed she was gaining weight running from one job to another and that she was not noticing how unhappy she was making herself all because she thought she had to keep doing work or everything would fall apart. She was not noticing that things were falling apart inside of her. Soon, with mindfulness practice, she saw that she was afraid of feeling her feelings and was running away from them by staying so busy.
When we can see our own suffering, our own struggles inside, we can begin to take action. In this Woman’s Group, Mindful Self-Compassion, you will learn how to bring kindness and gentleness to yourself so that you can look at and begin to feel your own pain. This is the next ingredient after you can be Mindful, learning how to bring in Kindness to yourself instead of criticism and judgment. Being kind is going slowly enough to attend to yourself and witness yourself, just like you would be there for a close friend who is hurting. This self-compassion training is the way that we learn to face and accept the fact that we have a variety of feelings going on inside of us. It’s not easy and it takes courage to face what is really painful and difficult. But only by facing what’s happening and feeling some of it, can we begin to move through it and find our next step in life. That’s why I offer support and tools like mindfulness and self-compassion and women’s groups to give you the connection with others to see that you are not alone—everyone has difficult challenges in their lives.
If you are struggling in some of the same ways as Jessica or if you have just experienced a major change or challenge in your life, I have lots of tools and support for you. Mindfulness is the first one I’d suggest.
I’m offering Mindful Self-Compassion Advanced Skills Group in June-July 2019. You can register Here.