As I sat in my bed—enveloped in silence, at 6 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning—I sipped my tea, and I felt relaxed, even though I’d already had to calm the anxiety that threatened to overtake my mind.
I focused on how it felt to be sitting there—pillows resting behind my back, the feel of the sheets on my skin, and the softness of my comforter wrapped around my legs.
When I have moments like this, I have to concentrate on something else. I focus on my breath, intentionally deepening my inhales and exhales, feeling my chest rise and fall.
I feel the wind on my face, or my fingers brushing against my thighs, as I walk outside. I pull myself back into my body—into the reality of my present moment—by focusing on the physical sensations I’m experiencing.
I have been practicing mindfulness for almost six years now, and I still feel like I’m just beginning. However, I’ve made progress. I can feel it.
But every day, I see how far I still have to go. I still get annoyed by little things. I let other people’s opinions affect me, and I allow insignificant moments to disrupt my peace of mind.
I often get filled with self-entitled, unjustified rage, as my speed-walking legs get stuck behind slow walkers on my way to work.
I find myself distracted when talking to my parents on the phone—sincerely wanting to listen, but not fully being there. My mind wandering to things I want to do that day or what I’ll say after they finish speaking.
I physically pick up the stress of co-workers. I feel my body tense in communion with the anxiety they carry. My breath becomes shallow, my chest tightens, and my shoulders rise uncomfortably toward my ears.
I fall into moments of self-loathing—and I get caught up in the magnitude of my inconsequential fears.
But then again, the simple fact that I recognize these habits points to self-awareness. As I continue to discover my thought patterns and habitual tendencies, I discover new areas that need my attention.
I still struggle with a lot of the same issues I always have, but the intensity with which I feel the emotions has lessened. My ability to move through the discomfort has strengthened.
I can sense when I am experiencing the knee-jerk reaction to avoid anything that causes me fear.
I notice when I feel the physical rigidity taking over me as I pick up my colleagues’ stress.
I observe the anger filling up in me when something hinders my speed-walking along the sidewalk.
I can feel the anxiety shoot through me as I try to control everything—my mind compensating, recalculating a way to make sense of the changes.
Through mindfulness, I’ve given myself room to observe. I can simultaneously feel what I’m feeling, while watching what’s going on inside of me. I witness what’s happening without judgment. I hold space for it.
At times, it creates an almost cognitive dissonance in my brain.
One day recently, I was at work, and I felt myself becoming angry and defensive. I was strong enough to not overreact toward my superior—but more significantly, I was self-aware enough to know what was going on inside of me.
I had woken up at 3 a.m. and was overly tired, which I know makes me crankier and quicker to snap. I was feeling and thinking so many things at once—understanding that my annoyance was enhanced due to the lack of sleep and knowing my defensiveness was a result of my ego. (I didn’t like feeling like I’d made a mistake.) I felt like the tone of my colleague’s voice was infused with judgment—although, I simultaneously pondered whether that tone really even existed, or whether I just perceived it because of my emotional state.
I felt all of these things at once, cradling them as they danced through me.
Self-exploration is a continuous unveiling, removing another layer of film which clouds my vision with each new insight. Another breath closer to clarity.
My thoughts and emotions no longer cripple me with their magnitude, though I still feel deeply. Rather, they are just things that happen to me, assignments to be learned from, and experiences I must endure.
It’s not easy, and it’s rarely enjoyable, but this mindful attention to my thoughts has become essential to my sanity and well-being.
Every moment is simply another opportunity to move into greater self-awareness, allowing me to more authentically interact with the world.
Author: Lisa Erickson
Image: Unsplash/elizabeth lies
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina