Practicing Mindfulness: The Critical “Thinker”
Following my earlier post, I had a number of questions about applying mindfulness as a practice. Mindfulness is a practice of conditioning the mind to: 1) live in the present moment 2) with awareness of what’s happening in your mind and body, and 3) with acceptance of what is (without judgment). At the beginning of my mindfulness practice I spent a lot of time figuring it out in my head. How, in the midst of a really gripping negative mind loop, can I step back and practice presence, awareness, and acceptance, what do the three elements actually look like in practice, and what are the best “exercises” for practicing them, in the moment? Of course, all of this “trying to understand” is happening in my thinking mind. Finally, I just started the practice to figure out, by trial and error, what worked for me.
The “trial and error” period is similar to the moment when you first start lifting weights and your muscles react to the unfamiliar with physical pain. The pain I experienced when first practicing mindfulness, was self-doubt. I was hyper-aware of my thoughts, and became acquainted with a “voice in my head” that I now lovingly call “crazy bitch”. Wow, if this “voice” was a real person, she would not be my friend; she is mean, complaining, and – bitchy. In hindsight, I realize I was applying two, of the three, elements of a mindfulness practice, presence and awareness, but not the third element, acceptance. In fact, I was looking at my thoughts with a very critical eye, and the more judgmental I was, the louder “crazy bitch” shrieked.
Try this Practice: This writing exercise helps me “turn down the volume” of the critical thinker. Keep with you a small notebook and pen or pencil. When you notice a persistent thought or mind loop playing out, transfer the thought(s) to your notebook. As you write, feel your hands gripping the pen/pencil, notice the vibration of the words as they form on the page, the pressure of your hand holding the notebook – and notice what happens in your body and mind as you pull the words out of their thought stream.
An effective mindfulness practice is about going back, again, and again – and again, to the three elements of Acceptance, Awareness, and Living in the Present Moment; it means every time you notice you’re in the thinking loop, bring yourself back to the present moment, notice your thoughts and your physical reactions to the thoughts, and accept them for what they are – just thoughts. In the beginning, the best way may be through doing one of the described exercises, transferring your thoughts to a notebook, following your breath to stillness, or becoming fully aware of your body.
For more in-depth information on mindfulness and the critical thinker, two books I suggest are The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chodron.
Thank you for reading!