Written by therapist Melissa Del Carmen
While reflecting on the relationship between spirituality and mindfulness, I wanted to point out that my view on engaging in spirituality through mindfulness is simply one out of many. I hope as you continue to read through this blog that you reflect on how your own spirituality or values can help you engage with mindfulness in a way that is genuine to you.
In the lowest and or most overwhelming moments of life, what or who do you tend to turn to? For some, they might have that one dependable person, or perhaps a set of values they turn to for major life decisions. There was a moment when I felt incredibly low after a relationship had ended. I did not know how to handle it at all. To be left with no real explanation left me confused and disoriented. Without realizing it, I felt so broken and rejected.
I gave every attempt to “push through” – to not let the “emotions get the best of me”. What I didn’t realize is that I was going through the motions of what I thought would get me through, functioning in “autopilot”, swerving the feelings of brokenness and rejection. Eventually, I had no energy to push the emotions down and instead, they came flooding in. I remember falling to my knees on my bedroom floor, tears flooding, and repetitively praying the words, “I’m so sad. I’m so sad”.
At that moment, all I could do was utter the words that I was afraid to acknowledge. Neuroscientist Jim Coan explains that the suppression of emotions is basically pushing something down that is already a part of your nervous system. It takes a huge amount of energy to suppress, that it actually revs up your nervous system. When I finally stopped pushing down the emotions, I realized that I was relying on the next step or next clear answer of what to do. What I neglected was the present moment of my experience.
Mindfulness is the practice of nonjudgmental awareness of what’s happening in the present moment. When someone is engaged in mindfulness, that person brings awareness to the present moment. You become aware of the natural thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations coming up while engaging in mindfulness. There is also a recognition of acceptance of those thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Simply saying, “I notice I am feeling sad,” is a way you can practice mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of your present experience, without getting lost in your thoughts or left ruminating in them.
Traces of mindfulness practices originate from Eastern religious and spiritual institutions (rooting in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). If you’re interested, I encourage you to engage in that curiosity and do some personal research. The West later adopted mindfulness practices as seen in secular institutions (commonly seen in positive psychology, mindfulness-based stress reduction, etc.).
Christiana Puchalski, MD, points that spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose, and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to themself, to others, to nature, and to their significant other. Common topics that are considered when one is engaging in spirituality are a person’s sense of meaning, sense of connection, and personal values.
How one connects to the present moment can be approached in so many different ways. Founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn, points that, “perhaps ultimately, spiritual simply means experiencing wholeness and interconnectedness directly…that nothing is separate or extraneous, and that everything is spiritual in the deepest sense, as long as we are there for it.” Practicing mindfulness gives us that opportunity to be present in the here and now.
Having an Open Mind for Mindfulness
If you asked me a couple of years ago what mindfulness was, I probably would have suggested a definition that revealed a little bit of where I was at. I’m sure I felt hesitant that I could actually practice mindfulness. I felt skeptical of the effects of mindfulness practices. I felt guarded and even self-critical of my own place in uncertainty that I didn’t want to admit it. But even so, mindfulness practices have opened my eyes to a greater acceptance of personal experiences.
I want to encourage you to be open to your experience. When we can be mindful and accepting of our experience in the present moment, we can be open to what that experience might mean to us. You don’t have to have everything figured out. You don’t even have to know the next step just yet. Take time to become aware of the present moment. Perhaps acknowledging the experience of the present moment can give more clarity of what you might need.
Mindfulness through Breathing: Breath Prayers
Taking some deep breaths can be so powerful. Deep breathing can help us slow down and bring us back to the present moment. I was introduced to the practice of breath prayers while in graduate school. There was something so personal about engaging in an exercise that acknowledged my present experience as well as my personal beliefs in the Christian faith.
Breath prayers are a form of prayer that utilizes a saying or mantra to meditate on. When practicing breath prayers, choose one or two lines to meditate on. For example:
Inhale. Fill your whole self with a breath and say, “When I’m afraid”.
Exhale. Slowly let the breath out and say, “I will trust in you”.
Feel free to be creative in what lines you choose to meditate on. This is just one example of how you can engage in spirituality and mindfulness.
If you’re curious about how your experience of spirituality can lean into mindfulness, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!