A year ago, I was diagnosed bipolar II. I won’t take up space here to delve into the wonderfully fascinating history of mental health issues my ancestors bequeathed upon me. They were all very beautiful souls. Learning this, though, was important for me. I’ve always taken something for depression. I just didn’t know there was something else also going on. And now it all makes sense.
Yoga, swimming, eating well..these were things I practiced. Not regularly, though. And I’d heard of meditation. Seemed tedious to me. Meh.
However, one divorce, three children, two grandchildren, one relocation from a house to an apt, three job changes, two years of virtual unemployment, more than one botched attempt at dating, and two prescription medications later…I learned a kernel of truth. It’s simple, really, once you understand it:
You will not find peace, happiness, contentment, healing, or wellness until you learn how to be mindful in the moment—minute by minute, every day of every week of every month of every year of the rest of your life.
There it is.
It is crucial for me (now that I have discovered what it is) to practice “mindfulness meditation” (or as I prefer to call it just simply “mindfulness”) for my physical health, for my psychological health, for my spiritual health, for my social skills and work ethic, for my ability to manage time and emotional responses, for patience and compassion with my loved ones, pets, traffic, my coworkers.
Below is a cool pictograph that lays out what mindfulness is all about (it is often tied-in with the word meditation, see “What About Time and Busy Schedules?” below). I’ve also included a link and a few other pictographs below, under “Deep Dive”.
This isn’t rocket science. It isn’t difficult to do. It can be challenging to make time for, though. But it’s worth it. Start with little bits of time. Five minutes here, five minutes there. I recommend it very highly.
Practicing mindfulness or mindful meditation doesn’t mean you have to hum open vowels or chant mantras. It doesn’t require incense, or chimes, or hookas, or beads; you don’t need to have scitars wang-wonging on your Bluetooth, or bamboo fountains spilling water onto little round stones—it can involve these things; but it isn’t necessary to get the desired effect.
Mindfuness and meditation are very old practices. And I kinda dig the little golden statues, mint-green bamboo leaves, water songs on stones. A culture has grown up around this ancient philosophy and it is something that deserves our respect.
Being mindful doesn’t make you a Zen practitioner, though. And it won’t turn you into a Buddhist monk. This isn’t a religious thing. This is a healthier you thing.
Everyday mindfulness can be practiced for 30 minutes, 5 minutes, even a single minute…or, you can do what I do and take out the time concept and replace it with that of activity. It’s the way it works best for me. I am mindful every moment, every day, depending on the activity in which I am involved
This helps me manage stress at the office and driving and at home. It keeps me baseline. And for a bipolar guy, that’s saying a lot. It quiets my head and allows me to deal with more challenging people and situations.
What is the desired effect? In a word: peace.
We too often generalize or overuse the word “peace” until we dont even remember what it means. But when we have it, we sense it. When we don’t have it, we can feel it; what’s worse: we may not even realize what we did to lose it. (“Life in the fast lane…surely makes you lose your mind.”) We’re grumpy, off-center, ungrounded, melancholy, hardedged, calloused maybe, desperate even…and for what? The answer to that becomes more elusive over time.
I want you to have peace. Real peace. And once you read this and start to put into practice one-minute “in the moment” mindfulness (or even longer mindful meditation), I guarantee you will find peace, and so much more.
🕓What About Time & Busy Schedules?
“Mindful what? Sit for how long? Clear my mind when I shower or walk my dog? I work. I have kids. I’m too tired already. I’m much too busy to worry about that!”
This is the 21st century. We move fast. Fast can make us successful (but it doesn’t necessarily make us healthy).
Consider rearranging your thinking a little. We’re about to do a 180. This is an Eastern, not a Western, concept.
There is an ancient Zen proverb that goes:
I have committed to not only specifically set-aside, sit-down meditation time—but also to something I call “one-minute mindful meditation practice.” I’m mindful in everything I do. It’s more activity driven than time-driven; but it seems to be that I rely on it mostly for short bursts of activity, perhaps because these can be random, stressful, unplanned, irritating because they slow me down. It took practice. But every great effort does…
I am now being “mindful” (breath-focused, mind empty of every thought), and in a state of “mini-meditation” when I:
- Brush my teeth
- Tuck in my shirt
- Walk the dog
- Drink my coffee
- Use the Little Boys’ Room
- Make dinner
- Mop the floor
- Clean the bathroom
- Take a shower
I am completely present in the moment, and only in that specific moment, when I do each of these and many other activities (writing, working, resting). My goal each time: no other thought of anything else on the planet enters and dwells in my mind when I am this focused. Thoughts will enter your mind. But the trick is to guide them right back out, immediately.
Why is this so important? Because I am a sufferer of a busy, overactive, overstimulated, overly critical (and harshly self-critical) mind. I can worry so much about a large work project, from home, at my bathroom sink, brushing my teeth, that, after I’m finished, I’m so anxious my head aches. Worse, that kind of dwelling on something negative—something you cannot possibly fix or change from your bathroom at home, like a work problem (more so, work belongs at work, not at home)— can begin a snowball effect in my bipolar cycle, rolling right toward depression, or the other way, toward a hypomanic irritability that can linger. It’s like an ambush of my entire day from a single, unexpected perpetrator: my unguided mind.
Bottom line: if your mind is not on brushing your teeth, and brushing your teeth alone, it’s going to be on something else. And in my case it very well could end up in places that lead to destructive emotions and behaviors.
Mindfulness is simply guiding your life toward the good things.
You will notice the long list of things in your life that are different all of a sudden, when you are living fully in the moment, and as you do, mindful moments can be the impetus for mindful living, via bigger changes in your life…starting with less anxiety and less stress, greater self-control, more compassion, less depression (clinical depression, like mine, is very serious and also requires medication), more patience with yourself and others, and less temptation toward risky and addictive behaviors and negative, habit-forming ways to “self-medicate”.
You will feel better. You will look better. You will love better. And you will Live better.
And that’s 2 cents you can take right to the bank.
For those who like a little more detail, I share the below pictographs and a link to an informative article on 5 ways to start being mindful right away.