We’re onto our THIRD KEY TO SUCCESS in the Massey Approach to Recovery. You can find Key One here and Key Two here for reference. Key Three is all about Listening To Yourself. This is so important because it is the basis for success! It is the backbone to both change and stability—listening to yourself is the key behind it all. Your body will tell you if you have hit your limit, if you can push harder, or if you need to ease off. Your gut will tell you whether or not something is working, or if you need to shift focus. Your fire will tell you if you’re on the right path—and you should not ignore it. But if you’re having trouble hearing your body, your gut, your inner fire, what can you do to better hear it? Here are a few ways to set your fire ablaze, and make sure you’re tending it well.
What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create. Buddha
Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana
Real Happiness: The Power of Mediation by Sharon Salzberg
(all of the above available at Amazon)
There are tons of other items that can set a perfect tranquil scene, but though nice, they’re not required. These books are great for explaining meditation at a beginner-level; I’ve read them both. This meditation pillow has lasted me years, and I think it’s important to use proper materials whenever possible. There are numerous different kinds of meditation but the overall goal of meditation is not to control your thoughts, but to stop letting them control you. You sit up straight, hopefully on a meditation cushion but otherwise a folded blanket or pillow, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. In and Out. In and Out. Thoughts will come in and out of your mind. Your brain does not like this stillness, especially not at first. It needs to be trained. That’s fine. Imagine your thoughts floating down a river, passing along. You make no judgement of them because they do not affect you—they’re just passing by like logs on a river. Return to your breath. In and Out. Keep doing this for as long as your goal is- 5, maybe 10 minutes at first. It will be difficult. I like to meditate to white noise, or sometimes by watching a flame. I also think that aromatherapy is helpful. Meditation connects you with you at your truest level.
Mindfulness, and thereby mindful living, is the act of living in the present moment. Sounds simple, right? It takes a lifetime of practice. Take away all your autopilot moments. Live every moment- every one. Walk mindfully. Feel every step. What are all of your senses telling you? Sit mindfully; focus on your breath. Practice “light meditation” by going about your business, but also letting thoughts drift through your head without judgment. Continue to refocus on your breath. Eat mindfully. Eat slowly, really taste and enjoy each bite. Experience it with numerous senses. Focus all your senses on eating and nothing else—no book, TV, internet. Just enjoy the experience of eating.
Those that practice mindful living savor everyday tasks and tackle them with compassion. They complete the task for the sake of doing the task, not for a bigger reward. They live with an authentic heart and soul and this shows with the grace that they live with. They are considerate, compassionate, nonjudgmental and empathic with others. Mindfulness practitioners forgive mistakes- theirselves and others — as they do not hold onto anger. They practice gratitude, are vulnerable, and trusting. Why do mindful people possess these traits? Because the ability to focus the “monkey mind” is one of the greatest gifts/powers in the world. It doesn’t come easy. But it comes with huge, awesome side effects—like being in touch with one’s self. It’s a life’s work.
I’ve found that the more grateful I’ve gotten, the more I’ve felt my gut instinct pushing me in the right direction. This goes for positive thinking, too.
It’s been said that happy people focus on what they have, while unhappy people focus on what’s missing. Gratitude Journaling is the perfect example of counteracting this phenomena by focusing on the immediate good in your life, as there really is some good even in the worst days. Focus on the helpers in a tragedy. Focus on your helpers in your tragedy. Even if they’re your soft, broken-in blanket, your campfire candle, and your loyal Golden Retriever: if they get you through, they are worth being grateful for. Gratitude journaling is my personal method of choice, as I like to have a reminder to look back on when I’m having a particularly bad day and remember that there is good in the world—and not just any world, but my world. And sometimes that makes my insides untwist a little bit. So to me, it’s doing double duty. But even without that bonus part, science has proven that writing down the things you’re grateful for, you start looking for MORE to be grateful for! Not only that, but it can lead to “better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among adults and kids alike” according to The Greater Good Science Center at Berkley. If you’ve tried gratitude journaling in the past and it hasn’t helped you, they have a few ideas that you might be able to try out.
Saying Daily Gratitude Out Loud
Another way to clear the negativity out of the way and let your inner fire shine bright is to say what you are grateful for out loud everyday. Some people prefer to say the same things, or pretty much the same things, while other people like to say completely new things everyday—much like gratitude journaling, but out loud. Saying what one is grateful for on a regular basis not only reminds them of the good in their life, but also reminds us of how far we’ve come in life, instead of focusing on how far we still have to go. In a world of challenges, goals, deadlines, and obstacles; focusing on how far we’ve come is important too. This can be a morning mantra, a daily repetition, an evening prayer, a nighttime affirmation, or whatever form you wish… just as long as you say what you as grateful for out loud at least once per day.
Live in the Present
Just slow down. Slow down your speech. Slow down your breathing. Slow down your walking. Slow down your eating. And let this slower, steadier pace perfume your mind. Just slow down… Doko
Stop and smell the roses. No, literally, stop and smell the roses. They don’t even have to be roses. The next time you’re walking down the street and pass some gorgeous looking flowers, stop, and smell them. Take a deep inhale, all the way from your belly; close your eyes as you do it. Let the fragrance wash over you like an old memory, let it encompass your entire being. Just enjoy being in the moment. Inhale as many times as you like!
When you’re ready, look around with fresh eyes, eyes that are mindful and grateful and living in the present. Find beauty in one other thing within eyesight. Say it out loud if you want, whether or not there’s another person around—use it as a way to interact if you choose! “I love the way the snow glistens!” or “That restaurant has great fish tacos!” If you would prefer to be more introspective and keep it to yourself that’s fine too (I can’t believe how much this street has changed since I used to come here with my father as a child. It’s still beautiful, but makes me miss those old days.)
My favorite quote about forgiveness is my favorite because its accurate and it goes like this: Refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Think about that. Really think about it. Unless you’re dueling at noon, is your anger at your friend affecting you or her more? Anger can increase your risk for heart attack, coronary disease, stroke risk, depression, anxiety; worsen your lung capacity and immune system; oh, and shorten your life. And that’s not talking about the fact that you’re letting that person live in your brain rent-free and drive you up-the-wall any ‘ole time they feel like it. We really need to change the “right-wrong” thinking that we have in this country. It’s not really about whose wrong, but yeah, I get for certain things there are clear lines of right and wrong, and someone can still be wrong; but forgiven. Forgiveness is for you—not them. You don’t even have to tell them if you don’t want to. Why? Because it’s your choice. Whatever they did—that was their choice, and how it harmed you was not your choice. But forgiveness is your choice, and if it affects that person—that’s your choice too.
To watch some really cool people over at SoulPancake talk more about forgiveness and how to work through it, CLICK HERE
Take Care of Yourself
Once you’ve learned to listen to your gut, you need to care for it. Everyone knows the basics—meds, sleep, coping skills, etc. but I wanted to touch on these few specifically.
Most psychiatrists disagree on most everything—medications vs. therapy, which meds work best, what kind of therapy works best, alternative treatments or therapies, when and how long to hospitalize, do alternative treatments help, to what effect do coping skills help… the list goes on. But all of them agree on (at least) two things that will make you feel better—exercise and helping people. We’ll save helping helping for another day, and focus on exercise today. Start where you are, this is no competition. Try to feel better than you did yesterday. Try to feel better than you did last month. Keep track of your daily exercise and movement to help keep you on track if you have a weight loss goal. Otherwise, this would be a great thing to put in your tracker in your bullet journal just to make sure it gets done!
I want to especially mention yoga here as we are discussing ways to listen to yourself. My yoga practice over the past several months has really helped me to get in touch with my body, and to quiet my mind. I can always tell when I’ve gone a few days without a class. If there is not a studio near you, or you cannot afford a studio, there are a lots of great resources online. I’ll be covering some yoga pieces soon, but until then check out my Work It! Pinterest Board for some ideas! I know that some people experience this type of “in-tuneness” from other types of exercises, and if you have one that works for you: that’s great. I’m not suggesting that you have to practice yoga, just sharing success that I have had! To me, yoga is more than exercise—it’s a meditative, centering experience. It allows me to tune into my body, as well as my soul (when my mind is right).
I think that this is something that is highly overlooked when it comes to improving your mental health. Study after study have found that poor nutrition leads to or negatively impacts poor mental health, especially depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It is so important to focus on eating a clean, green diet with lots of leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, fatty fishes, yogurt with active cultures, and lots of water! Also, talk to your doctor about starting some supplements—make sure you talk to your psychiatrist about this first. I take multiple supplements, but all were suggested by my psychiatrist and/or primary care physician. If you’re interested on reading more on this subject, check out the studies referenced above.
Stopping When Needed
I needed to include this one because it is ultimately the most important part of listening to yourself. You need to stop when your body says stop. Whether that’s physically, or mentally, or emotionally, or creatively, or all of the above… just stop. This is important. Burn out leads to being down longer, this time and next time. You’re not productive when you’re pushing yourself that hard past your limit, and you’re only harming your mental health. Don’t get me wrong—it took me a LONG time to learn this. I still have to relearn it sometimes. But it is the truth. Sometimes you can push when you’re tired, that’s why you need to listen to yourself, but if you know you’re past the breaking point then walk away and start fresh when you next can. You—and everyone else—will be thankful for that decision in the long run.