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Mastering mindfulness

5Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”

If you’ve had public speaking with communications instructor Ruth Stanley, then you’ve probably done this exercise multiple tiM.E.s. It coM.E.s from the concept of mindfulness. Most people associate mindfulness with Buddhism and M.E.ditation, and while it has a lot to do with those things, mindfulness encompasses so much more than rituals and M.E.ditation. It helps to alleviate suffering.

As a sufferer of the chronic illness ulcerative colitis, suffering is soM.E.thing I am extreM.E.ly familiar with. I suffer both physically and emotionally. The concept of mindfulness is the only way I have been able to cope. Just reciting the stateM.E.nt you first read, five tiM.E.s in a row brings M.E. to the present and I am re-centered. When I am centered, I am able to overcoM.E. struggles that otherwise prohibit M.E. from being able to function normally.

I also have chronic anxiety, and catching my breath is the only thing that keeps M.E. from having a panic attack. When I breathe, I make sure that when I am breathing in and my stomach is expanding, and when I breathe out, my stomach constricts. When my out breaths are longer than my in breaths, it calms the fight or flight signals and relaxes my body.

When it gets really bad, I’ll turn on “Bennie and the Jets,” and breathe to the rhythm, I’m able to calm down a lot faster that way. The music gives M.E. the space I need for five minutes.

Mindfulness goes beyond breathing, too. There are many ways to alleviate suffering. One of them is finding gratitude. As cliché as this sounds, it works. For example, when I am washing dishes, I am feeling the heat of the water wash over my hands and sM.E.lling the soap I’m using.

I make scrubbing my one, sole job. I am awake, truly living in that moM.E.nt, and I am finding soM.E.thing about that moM.E.nt that makes M.E. grateful. I have running water. The bits of food I scrub off the dishes is because I have food to cook for my family. When I wash clothes, I feel the texture of the clothes as I put them in the washer. I sM.E.ll the lavender of the detergent I use. I am grateful for the clothes I have to wear and the machine I have to wash them.

But, there is an eleM.E.nt to mindfulness that a lot of people forget about. Mindfulness can spark peace and gratitude, but one of the best things resulting from mindfulness is focus — soM.E.thing I have too little of. William JaM.E.s once said, “The education of the attention would be the education par excellence.”

In his book, “Resilience,” Rick Hanson talks about mindfulness and its effects on the brain. He explains, “‘You becoM.E. what you eat.’ That may be true for the body, but ‘you’ — the person you are — gradually becoM.E.s what your attention rests upon.”

If this is true, and I becoM.E. what my “attention rests upon,” then I am a stress-induced mother who has no energy to clean her house, a student who never has enough tiM.E., and a wife who would rather watch “True Detective” with her husband than talk about kids and bills. I’m also aware of what I’m feeling when I go through stress-induced situations and am able to observe from a much calM.E.r point of view.

Hanson explains it better — “Mindfulness holds your reactions in a spacious awareness that is itself never disturbed by whatever passes through it.”

When I am mindful, I can encounter stress, pain, discomfort and suffering, and still be able to gauge my reactions as things happen. It’s easy to be mindful when you sit on a pillow or breathe out to “Bennie and the Jets,” but being able to be mindful during finals, or when my preschooler is throwing a temper tantrum while I’m trying to talk to my husband about what’s for dinner is the trick, isn’t it?

I don’t know, maybe I need soM.E. of Bennie’s “electric boots and a mohair suit.”

Story by Rachel Hellums, UP contributor

Category: Opinion