Have you ever taken a photo of a project “before” and then another “after” all your hard work and marveled at the striking difference. Several years ago, I resurrected a neglected, overgrown perennial bed and turned it into an lush, inviting shade garden of broad-leafed hostas, frothy ferns and majestic jack-in-the-pulpits. Looking at the “before” and “after” photos was a huge reward for my arduous weeks of digging in the dirt.
It’s been just a little over a year since my serious commitment to mindfulness and I found myself wanting to contrast how I live my life today versus how I was living it before. On the surface, I was very aware of feeling much better physically and emotionally, but I was curious about deeper self-awareness.
What an eye opener! I took a look at my day-to-day life in “before” and “after frames — and what I discovered was a huge contrast with many enriching benefits.
By nature, I’m a pretty positive and upbeat gal. What has become a noticeable enhancement to looking on the bright side, is daily appreciation of the many blessings in my life. It can be something as simple as watching the sunrise hearing only the sounds of nature, or it can be as complex as a deep, emotional conversation with a family member. Being really conscious of so many grateful goodies in my daily life and being appreciative of them truly makes a positive impact on my ongoing happiness.
Life doesn’t always go the way we planned, or run as smoothly as we wish. Taking time to be appreciative is like taking a multi-vitamin for life — it fortifies us when things go off track.
One of my core attributes has been patience but as I shared in a prior blog, that can be both a blessing and a curse. In the past, patience was often just a coping skill — a mask for stuffing my feelings because I was just too tired to fight the same old battles. The trouble with stuffing is that sooner or later, the lid comes flying off usually at the worst possible time.
Today I am intimately curious about my “patience” and asking myself a lot of questions to better identify what I’m truly feeling. There are 3 valuable mindfulness tools I’m implementing in this self-awareness process.
- Pausing – which is simply taking some time before taking action.
- A body scan enables me to read the cues my body is sending in a given situation. Is my tummy upset? Are my arms crossed tightly across my body? Is my blood boiling? Once I’ve identified the physical clues, I can use the 3rd tool.
- Labeling my emotions. I can say “that is anger”, “that’s fear”, “that’s mistrust”. Labeling enables me to recognize the feeling and at the same time, avoid immediately reacting to it.
Now comes the really BIG step in this process — speaking up! Yep, that was always hard for me to do in the past. The path of least resistance was to let things slide. What I have discovered about that slippery slope is that I wasn’t being true to what mattered most to me.
I’m still a firm believer in being respectful and maintaining dignity when expressing my perspective, boundaries and feelings with others. The difference is huge — I no longer sugar-coat it. It is simple, honest and direct.
We all have different filters and triggers that are bound to clash on occasion. Taking time to check in with yourself and react in a calm, honest manner shows deep respect for yourself and for others.
Thanks to mindfulness, I have added intention to my daily life. What is so key about intention is it really helps to keep my mind and attention focused so I fully enjoy my activities and time with others. It’s like making a promise that my wandering mind won’t distract me from the moment at hand.
For example, when heading off to a round of golf with friends, I set the intention of giving my best effort to each shot, to being supportive and enjoyable for my friends and to appreciate the beauty of the course. If I find my mind wandering (reflecting on the past or pondering a problem), I remind myself of my stated intention and return to the present moment. I’m playing more consistently now, enjoying the rounds of golf even more than before and I’ve developed stronger friendships. My appreciation for the opportunity to play on such beautiful courses, to be physically able to do so and to make new friends has multiplied.
I’ve been more aware of setting an intention for day-to-day interactions too and admittedly this has been a bigger challenge than I expected. When talking on the phone with a friend or family member, I set the intention to really listen and ask questions in order to learn more. This means that I had to give up my habit of multi-tasking. No more folding laundry or watering plants while chatting on the phone. It’s been a real eye opener to realize that I was only half paying attention in the past and was missing a lot of really good information!
Distractions can rob us of some of life’s most precious gifts. Setting an intention is making a pact with yourself to stay in the present moment and soak up all the experiences that moment offers.
After taking the time to reflect on the transformation that mindfulness has brought to my life over this past year, one word repeatedly comes to mind — contrast.
The definition of contrast is the state of being strikingly different from something else; to be different especially in a way that is very obvious.
The way I experience life, the ways in which I examine my truest feelings, the way I respond to my emotions have all been enhanced by mindfulness. I am calmer, happier and healthier. I am making better life decisions.
The best analogy that I can offer is this. I once took an art class and was taught to train my eyes to see the landscape in 3D. It took quite a while to accomplish this skill. I remember driving home from work one autumn evening and being awestruck by what I was seeing. It was as if I was wearing 3D glasses in an IMAX theater. The rich vibrant colors of fall foliage literally appeared to be dancing for me. There was movement, depth and intensity in that landscape.
That is how I feel about being mindful in my daily life. The contrast in the “before”and “after” is strikingly different in the most positively profound way.