In his book, Full Living Catastrophe: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. provides a metaphor to describe the challenges many of us face with the act of “letting go” of thoughts and feelings that cause us anxiety, pain, and suffering in our lives. He explains:
“They say that in India there is a particularly clever way of catching monkeys. As the story goes, hunters will cut a hole in a coconut that is just big enough for a monkey to put its hand through. Then they will drill two smaller holes in the other end, pass a wire through, and secure the coconut to the base of a tree. Then they put a banana inside the coconut and hide. The monkey comes down, puts his hand in and takes hold of the banana. The hole is crafted so that the open hand can go in but the fist cannot get out. All the monkey has to do to be free is to let go of the banana. But it seems most monkeys don’t let go.”
Similar to the monkey’s experience, it can sometimes be difficult for us to let go of certain life experiences or encounters. More specifically, sometimes we may have trouble forgiving ourselves for disappointing a friend or loved one to the point where we find ourselves ruminating or attaching to thoughts that cause us to feel overwhelmed or as though our mind is constantly racing. We may experience sleepless nights, be more forgetful or distracted in our daily activities, feel more “on edge” or even resort to unhealthy vices as a means to gain better control over our, what feels like, lack of mental and emotional clarity.
Fortunately, mindfulness meditation is a healthy and effective technique that can be utilized to help you detach from or let go of your distracting thoughts and feelings of anxiety. It is a skill that requires one to be in the present moment, to be consciously aware of one’s surroundings, and to be attentive to how the mind and body are responding.
Keep in mind that the act of being mindful doesn’t necessarily come with a set of instructions. Rather, when patience and openness to growth is present, transformation is more likely to occur. So, if you’re feeling compelled to begin practicing mindfulness meditation, try considering some simple, yet effective strategies listed below.
Listen to what your mind and body is trying to tell you. Take note of how you’re feeling physically. Do you notice any tension or pain in your body? Or, are you feeling relaxed? Are there any emotions present? What thoughts accompany them? Conscious awareness is an essential step in mindfulness meditation. It cultivates an ability to find balance and centeredness.
Eat mindfully. Instead of trying to simultaneously finish a project and eat lunch, take 20 or 30 minutes to sit quietly in a place where you can truly enjoy the food in front of you. Try not to rush, notice the flavors in each bite, and find gratitude for the nutrition you are offering to your body.
Take several pauses throughout the day. Put your phone aside for a few minutes and try to make note of your surroundings. When is the last time you noticed the vibrant colors of flowers in bloom or the leaves on the trees changing? Offering yourself a few minutes of silence can allow you to collect your thoughts/feelings and even change how you approach the rest of your day.
Give yourself permission to let go of any distracting thoughts or feelings of anxiety for a few moments. Try taking five minutes to close your eyes and focus solely on your breath. As you inhale, make an effort to breath in through your diaphragm (with each breath your stomach should rise and fall) and exhale through your nose. You may notice distracting thoughts passing by as you focus on your breath. However, the only work you have to do at this time is acknowledge that the distraction is there and then bring yourself back to paying attention only to your breath. Try counting with each inhale (1…2…3…4…5) and exhale (5…4…3…2…1).
Open your heart and mind to having greater compassion for…you! Be forgiving of yourself. Focus less on self-judging statements and acknowledge the good in all that you do for others and, more importantly, for you!
Mindfulness meditation is a great skill that can be strengthened over time. With practice, it can become a lifelong source of support and guidance. If you are interested in becoming more mindful in your daily life to combat stress and anxiety, our counselors can support you in this process.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full living catastrophe: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.