How to ride a horse (mindfully)

August 25, 2013 Jason No comments exist

Mindfulness is what we achieve when we become able to identify both our emotional shape of the moment and the traits we use to run our lives. It’s this ability that helps us stay focused, react after thinking (not before), know where pain and joy or any other feeling hover in our bodies, and reduce living on automatic impulses. Some of us might deride this as living like control freaks. Yet once we think of ourselves as drivers of our own automobiles, we might begin to see it’s not a matter of choosing to take control. We are already driving, so it’s best to learn how to steer this hunk of metal or end up in a heap.

I learned about mindfulness after picking up a library book titled Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy at my school, The School of Positive Psychology. The title is listed on my Goodreads shelves. If your device supports javascript, you’ll see the shelves (so not on the iPad and iPhone). This book provided me with the theoretical underpinnings for understanding mindfulness and a few pointers for practicing breathing and body scanning. The body scan utilizes breathing to spot where an emotion is emerging in our bodies and regard it as we would a passer-by … unless we decide we do wish to react to it (say by allowing anger to gird us into punching a bully).

It wasn’t until a friend recommended that I watch Chade-Meng Tan’s Youtube clip, above, that I understood the ideas at a more pedestrian level and turned them into habits. Do watch the clip, in parts if you don’t have an hour to spare. He is also the author of Search Inside Yourself, in which he illustrates a wellbeing program he developed at Google where he works. I have no commercial interest in promoting Meng, by the way. I don’t even know him. That said, I would be psyched if he left me a note here. Psyched and inspired to help advance the world peace he wants. But I digress.

For myself and with clients, I often begin with mindful breathing. It helps to calm the mind, particularly for clients who fidget and talk multi-directionally. These are physiological signs of being uncentered, anxious, troubled or worse (which hypnotherapy is then applied to pinpoint and resolve). Mindful breathing also puts us (I say “us” because it benefits me as the therapist, too) in a more open state for hypnotherapy.

As the sessions progress, I may teach them to locate bodily sensations of lethargy; fear; anxiety; even depression. I do the converse, too, since we can’t embrace the downside without properly experiencing calm; confidence; elation and bliss. I find too many of us let the horses ride us, as Meng might put it. Romantic notions of seizing the day by its balls and running with the first feeling that grips us are Hollywood. Healing requires a more horse(wo)man-like approach. I highly recommend learning to live on top of how we feel, and let this ability steer our horses. Freedom, inspiration and mindful romance come from being able to decide what we want to do with our feelings (and not the other way around). An alternative for building up emotional awareness is by journaling, like using the iphone app Happier to do it. It’s something I have written about.

Because we don’t live by feelings alone, there’s something else I keep doing; helping people discover their strengths, which are the ingredients we draw upon to get things done. This is a technique I learned both from my supervisor and Martin Seligman, the positive psychology guru. I’ve been recommending to friends and family the VIA Survey of Character Strengths found on Seligman’s website, authentichappiness.org. The top five will be our signature strengths, the ones we (should) turn to most often for our best performance. Although the test reveals no weaknesses, we can regard the last five strengths (20th to 24th) as our weakest links.

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