Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 will take place from Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May 2019. The theme for 2019 is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies.
Body image issues can affect all of us at any age. During the week we will be publishing new research, considering some of the reasons why our body image can impact the way that we feel, campaigning for change and publishing practical tools.
Since our first Mental Health Awareness Week in 2001, we’ve raised awareness of topics like stress, relationships, loneliness, altruism, sleep, alcohol and friendship. This year, with your support, we want to reach more people than ever!
In aid of Mental Health Awareness Week, this week on the LID Publishing blog, we are taking guidance from some of our wellbeing authors, who give top tips on how to maintain a healthy mind.
Today, we look to Martyn Newman, author of The Mindfulness Book.
The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher
We’ve already seen that one of the core elements of mindfulness involves the ability to suspend being judgemental of your circumstances and yourself. In this chapter, we “push the envelope” further and explore the radical implications of applying this central idea to daily life.
According to the tradition behind mindfulness, most of our suffering occurs because of the view we take of our experiences. We have an over exaggerated tendency to hang on tightly to experiences that bring us pleasure and work very hard to avoid painful experiences. This is normal> But in the mindfulness tradition, both responses constitute “attachment” and are the real source of most of our suffering.
Mindfulness suggests that the way to reduce your suffering is to reduce your degree of attachment both to objects and outcomes. This involves learning to”let go” of your default tendency to pass judgement – “this is good” or “this is bad”, “I must have this” or “I can’t stand that.” In other words, to live mindfully is to feel emotions, think thoughts and experience life, but without holding tightly to the story that this is how something “should” or “shouldn’t be or continue to be.
Turning toward experience
Instead, mindfulness practice encourages a willingness to open up to what is occurring in the world within you and around you with a more accepting attitude. Rather than relying on your defences to avoid difficult experiences, mindfulness involves turning toward your experiences with a radical acceptance of reality.
This makes perfect sense from a psychological point of view. Take negative emotions such as anxiety or fear, for example. Both of these generate discomfort and you will feel a strong urge to get rid of them or avoid them. This is understandable, and avoidance is a strategy that works effectively when you are confronted with physical threats. Unfortunately, it fails hopelessly when dealing with psychological challenges like anxiety and fear.
On the contrary, working hard to try to avoid unpleasant thoughts or feelings sets up a painful internal conflict that leaves you vulnerable to greater suffering. When you attempt to avoid difficult thoughts and emotions through suppressing or avoiding them, more often than not this has the effect of amplifying them. Typically this often leaves you vulnerable to obsessive or compulsive behaviour.
Mindfulness is not an attempt to distract yourself from difficult content in your mind, not at all. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Mindfulness offers a more proactive approach by encouraging a less judgemental, more curious, inquisitive strategy. Moving toward the experience and ask yourself, “What is this experience?” has a tendency to moderate the aversion and distress, as well as reduce the emotional gap between what you want and what you’ve actually got.
Learning to observe feelings and thoughts is the first step. Accepting them as they are, even though painful, is the second step in learning how to reduce the struggle with both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of our lives.
Right Mindfulness and right action
Let’s be clear though, this is not about trying to maintain some phoney “happy state” or about denying emotional pain. Neither does it imply a passive resignation – a “grit your teeth and bear it” approach.
On the contrary, the ancient tradition within which mindfulness is embedded makes it crystal clear that mindfulness involves a commitment to an ethical lifestyle. We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next chapter. for now, it is important to note that mindfulness is not as passive or as disinterested as many people teach in popular courses.
Right mindfulness involves taking action that is in line with your deepest-held values. For example, if you witnessed injustice or were in an abusive relationship, being mindful involves making room for the painful thoughts and feelings rather than simply reading to them. Instead of dealing with your anger through destructive “acting out” or with self0defeating behaviours such as excessive drinking or passive submission, acting mindfully involves finding ways to improve the situation according to your values.
In other words, acceptance in the mindfulness tradition is more about accepting your personal experiences – thoughts, feelings and memories – rather than passively accepting the circumstances of your life. It’s about actively making room for unwanted thoughts hard to avoid. Interestingly, the Latin word for “acceptance” is capere, which literally makes “take”. When we accept something we “take what is offered”.
Acceptance, separation and freedom
This brings us to the most important insight. in mindfulness, the actual content of the thought or emotion is not considered to be the real problem; it’s only when you identify closely with these experiences and difficult experiences, you fail to notice how much they control you.
So, by being fully present in the moment, stepping back from the brink of your reaction and using the observing self, you are able to notice the relationship that links thoughts and emotions to your predictable actions as they occur. In this way, mindfulness is an approach that undermines your habitual need to be in control – that is, trying to control your thoughts and feelings – rather than creating the psychological space for acceptance of them.
Once you can create the psychological space through a greater acceptance of your experience, you are able to reduce the potential negative gravitational pull of states such as depressed mood or anxiety. So, rather than life being dominated by working hard to avoid such negative states, taking a more accepting approach opens us greater freedom to choose behaviour aligned with your values and the outcomes you want to achieve.
Put it into practice
- Make peace with imperfection. Whenever we are too attached to having something a certain way, we set up the conditions for inner conflict.
- No matter what happened yesterday or what may happen tomorrow, learn to live in the present moment
- Develop more patience and add an element of ease and acceptance to your life
- Establish patience periods, when for five minutes at a time you decide not to let anything disturb your peace of mind.
- Accept the fact that life isn’t far
- See the glass as already broken. This Buddhist teaching reminds us that life is in a constant state of change. Everything has a beginning and an end.
- Notice your moods and don’t make important choices when your mood is low.
- Let go of your expectations and lighten. You’re more likely to be surprised by joy.
- Surrender to the present moment and allow it to be okay the way it is for the moment
- Take a long, deep, mindful breath and soften your response.
Research has told us that to be successful in our personal and professional lives we need emotional intelligence; mindfulness is one practise to harness this ability and build your emotional capital. Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice, which is very relevant for life today. Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings by paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. This increases awareness, clarity and acceptance of our present-moment reality.
This book reveals the seven dynamic emotions that create success and provides a step-by-step guide for building emotional wealth and wellbeing.
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