By Dr,Celeste Cooper
Coping strategies can vary among each of us. I write and advocate as a way of coping. I am open to learning anything that will help me avoid the pitfalls of negative thinking, and one of those is to live in the moment, to be mindful.
When things seem out of perspective, I realize the importance of focusing, living in the moment, being aware of my surroundings, and giving my body the loving care it needs. Mindfulness is a learned ability to live in the moment without judgment or fret over intruding thoughts. It’s about visualizing details without becoming emotionally involved. For instance, to breathe mindfully is to use all my senses, the sound and feel of air traveling over passageways, the smell of my surroundings, and I can see the crisp air of fall because of my breath. I realize the beauty of a flower is the sum of its minute detail, aspects that can only be captured by getting close. If I am lucky, I will catch a honeybee sipping on its sweet nectar. I would never get that snapshot if I let fear of being stung overcome my desire to capture the moment.
Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives.
It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.
~Jon Kabat-Zinn, Molecular Biologist, University Teacher,Writer, and Physician~
It takes practice, but we can learn to be mindful of our pain without judging it. After all, it is our body crying out for attention, love, and caring, not ridicule and disturbing dialogue or worry. Denying the reality of it or catastrophizing it will only make it worse. So, why not use pain as a teaching tool for focused redirection creating an environment that helps us live fully.
WATCH OUT, CHANGE AHEAD
Mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, and promotes relaxation. This is extremely important to those of us living with chronic pain because we unconsciously assume postures and hold muscles in an effort to guard against pain. Only when we become aware can we train ourselves not to react to it emotionally. Over time, we recognize the powerful energy mindfulness has in our lives and change happens. Will mindfulness make the disease that causes our pain go away? No, but it certainly changes our perception in the moment.
From our book, Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain, Summer Devotions edition©:
- Take a couple of deep breaths.
- Focus on the colors, shapes, smells.
- Identify and release thought projects.
- Appreciate that your mind is clear.
- Fill it up with the present moment.
- Enjoy being present
Living mindfully promotes awareness, acceptance,
lenience with self and others, and tolerance of change.
Here is a guided mindfulness exercise from Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain© :
Get as comfortable as possible in a place where you can keep distractions at bay for about 20 minutes.
- Begin by doing a body check for discomfort, numbness, weakness, or pain. Without judgment, color each area with a hue that reflects the disease you feel. I (Jeff) use orange for aches, blue for numbness, grey for weakness, and red for acute pain. If you are aware that a disease will occur if you move, or don’t move, add it in as if it were already present. Whatever system of ouchies and colors you pick will work just fine.
- Begin breathing as deeply as practical and keep the body map in your mind’s eye. Accept this map as “where we start.”
- With every breath note the intensity of the colors fading a bit. Note how some colors fade quickly, some more slowly, some completely, others less so. Which might change and in what way? Focus on the colors and how they shift. As your mind wanders off task, bring it back gently to breathing and observing.
- When you sense the fading has reached its peak, begin visualizing warm, gentle rain that blurs the colors beautifully like a soft watercolor painting. Enjoy what you have created; residual pain is always interesting.
- Close by affirming your intention to observe and learn from these sensations
There are many good books and many stress reduction programs available on mindfulness and meditation; I have a repertoire of them. One of my favorites is Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. In my meditation playlist, I have guided meditation and mindfulness exercises by Deepak Chopra and music like Meditation Movement from Charles Lam, which encourages me to get up and rock out some T’ai Chi, another favorite coping mechanism of mine.