Integrating Mindfulness: Focusing on the Current to Let Go of the Past
Jul 29, 2016 05:45PM
By Ariana Rawls Fine
With increasing frequency, we are hearing mindfulness mentioned in the media, at business conferences, or in personal growth blogs and seminars, to name a few. But what is mindfulness? With roots in Eastern philosophies, it is simply about living in the here and now.
“I see mindfulness as the art of expanding our consciousness of the moment. It is an approach to being that allows us to intentionally slow down and focus, improve our observation and appreciation of detail, and create a powerful feeling of gratitude,” says Susan Lasky, a life coach specializing in ADHD and the owner of Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions in Ossining, New York.
Michael Finkelstein, M.D., the founder of SunRaven: The Home of Slow Medicine in Bedford, New York, explains further: “In the context of health and wholeness, mindfulness is a state of conscious awareness that deepens and expands with the practice of letting go.”
The practice of mindfulness
“Setting a conscious intention of practicing mindfulness is simply reminding ourselves to let go of the constant pressure, past issues and future thinking, and take the time to fully experience the moment,” says Lasky. “By stepping away—metaphorically—from our focus on getting things done, we are quieting our mind and building a platform from which we actually think clearer.”
Although there are various ways to practice mindfulness, the underlying theme is that of achieving a state of alert yet focused relaxation by focusing on our breathing, noticing sensations within our body and sensory stimuli around us, and allowing our emotions to be present and then released.
“Mindfulness allows us to focus on what is happening now, without ruminating about the past, which can cause depression, or thinking about the future, which can cause anxiety. It enables us to fully live our lives with compassionate awareness,” states Jodi Baretz, who owns a mindfulness-based psychotherapy practice in Mt. Kisco, New York.
Incorporating strategies into therapeutic work
“Many of my clients have ADD/ADHD, or are symptomatic; their minds are constantly in movement from one thought to the next. Even hyperfocus is usually goal-directed. Mindfulness practice allows them to slow down and focus on the moment, helping them to clear anxiety, pressured thinking or rumination, and so ‘recharge’ their brains,” explains Lasky.
Finkelstein concurs. “The idea behind my Slow Medicine work is to reframe challenges and obstacles as opportunities for growth and expansion. By exploring the nature of our discomfort, we can find new ways of being and new sources of power that ultimately lead us to genuine healing.”
Practicing on the fly
“Mindfulness…is allowing for what is happening, without trying to change or resist it even if you don’t like it. You are not changing reality, just your relationship to it,” says Baretz, when asked for a quick mindfulness exercise. “Try to focus on whatever you are doing without wandering thoughts. When you’re in the shower, focus on the water and soap, when you’re walking your dog, focus on grass and trees. And take time to unplug from your phone.”
Finkelstein offers a simple mantra: “Breathe in the pain. Breathe out, filling the area of pain with love. Smile.”
Changing our perspective through mindfulness
“I don’t believe you can give something up—even if it is detrimental—without substituting something else to fill the gap. [That is] one reason negative habits are so difficult to break. Mindfulness allows you to let go of the daily pressures, not by clearing your mind but by focusing in on details of the moment. If you are totally experiencing the present, you can’t be obsessing about the past or worrying about the future,” says Lasky.
Even taking 20 minutes a day to meditate can help us learn to stay more in the present. Baretz offers a personal note on how the practice has affected her and her practice. “Mindfulness has changed my perspective, and I see how much it has helped my clients. Our brains are wonderful machines, but our minds can drive us crazy. We ruminate, obsess, overanalyze and make assumptions, constantly telling ourselves wild stories that have no merit. When we notice that we are spinning a tale, we can interrupt our thinking and come back to our breath and refocus. Being able to notice and observe your thoughts helps you realize that you don’t have to believe everything you think.”
Michael Finkelstein, M.D.,
Founder of SunRaven:
The Home of Slow Medicine
501 Guard Hill Road, Bedford, New York
Ariana Rawls Fine is editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County and Natural Awakenings New Haven & Middlesex Counties. She resides with her family in Stratford, Connecticut.