As I mentioned last week, I’ve been finding Jan Chozen Bays’ book Mindful Eating really useful—and not just in my efforts to improve my relationship with food.
She defines mindfulness as awareness without judgment or action—such a simple concept. And so foreign to my daily experience—until I started using her book, my only experience with this mindfulness stuff had been occasional reminders in yoga classes, reminders which I’m chagrined to admit had never really carried over into my daily routine.
As I’ve made a point of bringing mindfulness to my relationship with food, I’ve started also taking opportunities during the day to briefly scan through my body, head to toe, with the same mindfulness.
In those moments, I observe areas of tension, and I notice how that act of observing affects what I’m feeling. When I am actively aware of my body in this way, I find I feel much more grounded, and I believe I am carrying less of the chronic stress that’s been my constant companion for many years. (Like many people, I have the habit of carrying tension in my neck and shoulders.)
I began to use the same technique with emotions. I noticed, for example, that I frequently get angry in the car, and I also noticed that I don’t really like the way anger makes me feel. That exercise of bringing awareness without judgment helped me to untangle the anger, teasing out the threads of my distrust of other drivers, my fear of being in an accident, until I finally recognized that I am not comfortable with the lack of control I have while driving in traffic. Sometimes I still experience anxiety in traffic, but at least now I can recognize it for what it is—and I don’t have to react with anger to other drivers.
In everything we do (including driving), a big chunk of brainpower is devoted to filtering out everything we can safely ignore—a neat feature that allows our reasoning brains to create, problem solve, and do all the other things that make our lives remarkable and fun.
I think that filtering process sometimes leaves our right brain without a channel for communicating much of what we’re experiencing—in other words, our left brain is hogging our attention. That may be the power of mindfulness; we are turning off the filtering, and allowing our non-verbal selves to speak.
There is I think a real affinity between mindfulness and hypnosis. Hypnosis, as a kind of gateway to our non-verbal mind, gives us the means to use the awareness mindfulness brings in positive ways, to bring real change in areas of our lives that we can’t directly access with our dominant left brains; the list includes habit, motivation, emotion, and so much more.