By Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, Mindfulness Based Approaches/Contemplative Approaches
Are you moving through the day on autopilot? Do you sometimes feel as if life is passing you by? Do you find yourself reacting to situations, events, and people with anger and frustration? If you responded yes to any of these questions you’re not alone.
Many of us will face challenging situations in our lives that make us want to retreat from life or lash out at the world. Some of these situations will be life changing, and some of it will be the small stuff.
I actually experienced living on autopilot last week as I was driving to the office. I was coasting along, following my normal route while listening to the radio and eventually drifted off into thoughts. Normally, this isn’t a problem, but that morning I almost had a terrible accident. I was going up the ramp to get off the expressway, when the driver in front of me suddenly swerved into the other lane. As I looked up I felt my heart stop! Sitting in the middle of the road was a plastic chair and I was headed straight for it. Luckily, my reflexes were quick and I was able to swerve into the other lane. It was a drastic way to come into the present moment and I was thankful to be alive! This scary experience made me reflect on how many times in past days, weeks, and hours I’d moved through life without really being present. When I shared this story with my clients they were able to relate and share similar experiences.
It’s normal to have some moments of disconnection. We’ve all experienced moments where we lose connection to the present and get lost in thoughts, stories, and judgment. However, when this becomes our habitual response to life, we may end up feeling as if life is passing us by.
Living Mindfully Through Awareness is What Helps Us Connect with Life
Before going further, I’d like to ask that you take a moment to reflect back on your day and answer the following questions:
- How did you feel at the start of the day? Did you rush through your daily morning activities or did you take time to relax?
- Did you notice the rhythm and pace of your breath at different points throughout the day? Was your breathing shallow or deep?
- As the day went on was your body tense or relaxed?
- What were your surroundings like? (e.g., sunny day, outdoors surrounded by flowers, or indoors in a room with no windows).
- What did you have for lunch today? How did it taste? Was it salty or sweet?
- Did you face any stressful situations today? If you so, how did you respond? What did you feel as you went through this situation?
If your day went by in a blur and you can’t remember what you did, felt, or ate you’re not alone. Many of us go through life as if we’re in a race against time, trying to get things done with little time to take breaks from our busy schedules. We’re like the hamster on a wheel, constantly running and never getting anywhere!
Living Life on Auto Pilot
Living on auto pilot keeps us from experiencing life. When we coast through life without being able to connect with ourselves, others, and the world, life feels painful. We feel isolated, alone, and separate. This feeling of separation is what creates suffering. As we lose touch with our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs we become less able to connect with the beauty and love that exists in the world. This is detrimental to our health!
For example, if we are depleted of energy, any small frustration can trigger big reactions, and as our anger builds we may become reactive towards life and others. This can have many negative consequences to our physical, mental, and emotional health, and it can stop us from thriving in life, love, and relationships.
Learning to Reconnect and Respond to Life
In practicing mindfulness, we learn to become aware of when we’re reacting to life and begin to slow down so that we can bring our attention inwards. We do this by using an anchor such as the breath, bodily sensations, or by connecting with our surroundings. Mindfulness meditation teacher and psychotherapist Tara Brach calls it finding our way back home. As we become aware of the stories and judgment that may be fueling the reactivity, we begin to notice that this additional layer of reactivity is creating suffering. With a deep awareness, we can choose to respond to our own pain or frustration with understanding, compassion, and kindness. This compassionate response helps us reconnect with the life that is right here.
This slowing down is what Tara calls the Sacred Pause. We come into this sacred pause any time that there is a need to reconnect with life in a healing way. Our ability to pause in order to connect with life is the precious gift of opening our heart so that we can allow life to move through us. In that moment we are fully connected to the world and our aliveness.
Living mindfully can help us:
- See what is actually happening in the present moment without judging our experience
- Allow feelings, sensations, and thoughts to pass through our awareness
- Develop self-compassion when we’re going through a challenging situation or event
- Connect with the joys and sorrows that are a natural part of life
- Develop loving kindness, which helps us connect with our suffering and the suffering of others
- Develop the willingness to heal past trauma by recognizing when past hurts are being triggered in the present moment and respond with compassion toward these wounded parts
- Live connected to our body, sensations, emotions, and thoughts with present-moment awareness
I encourage you to reflect on ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Whether you take 5-minute breaks during the day to breathe and stretch, sit in meditation for an hour, or cuddle up with your family, it’s important that you find ways to connect with life. Doing so will grant many benefits and rewards for your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Most of all, it is an acknowledgement of your own importance and a way of honoring life.
May you have moments of peace.
© Copyright 2012 by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, therapist in Coral Springs, Florida.
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