Do you know one of the hottest topics in the counseling field is these days? Mindfulness. Yep, that somewhat spiritual sounding practice of being where you are while you’re there is one of the hottest therapeutic tickets around. Not so very long ago I read a book urging therapists to make more use for mindfulness. Seems that it’s a useful tool for dealing with anxiety, depression… even post-traumatic stress.
Paying attention. Being present. Hardly the stuff of high tech (unless you program your smart phone to remind you to stop and be mindful twice an hour.) It seems simple, really. You breathe. You pay attention to what you’re hearing, seeing, touching. For example, right now I’m sitting outside at a coffee shop. I hear the piped in music, the rustle of the conversations around me, birds chirping nearby, the not so distant rumble of traffic. I feel a soft breeze blowing past me and the wooden chair on which I sit. The paving bricks are solid and smooth beneath my feet. I smell the smell of brewing coffee drifting through the air.
One simple moment out of a thousand moments in my day. But the act of slowing down and paying attention has enlarged and changed my experience of it. Somehow the act of slowing down and becoming present in our lives reduces our anxiety. Slowing down and being present in our corner of the world reduces our depression.
Sometimes when I’m sitting with a client I’ll realize that I’m not breathing. Well, not technically, because that sort of thing can’t go on for very long. But my breathing is shallow and restricted, which is my cue that my client is probably not breathing either. (Again, not in the technical sense.) I stop them and make them take a deep breath. Sometimes they have to try several times before they can allow themselves to use the fullness of their lungs. Something about that breath changes things. They still have the same issues with which they walked into my office. but something is different.
They’re more relaxed. They lose that tight, hunched over look. There is more space in their bodies. There is more space in their lives. Nothing has changed. And yet, it has.
In this morning’s Peanuts comic strip that ran in my paper, Charlie Brown made the observation that some days were so narrow you could hardly fit yourself in, while he observed that “today is feeling pretty wide.” I think that’s something of what mindfulness does – it takes our narrow days and makes them wide.