As a little girl, I had many fears – particularly bugs and grass. While I enjoyed being outside, I kept my bare toes to the security of a blanket or nearby lap. I don’t recall why I had this fear. It seemed innate.
As I grew older, there was a shift. I suddenly enjoyed the outdoors…jumping into piles of crunchy leaves and making sand castles on the beach. As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to have a forest for a backyard. I spent many hours exploring ponds and the creatures that lived in them. I took long, solitary walks on moss encrusted paths following the footsteps of gnomes and fairies.
Along the familiar path, I came to a mighty, old oak, worthy of telling my secrets. With my back against the weathered welcoming bark, I would gaze up into the comforting canopy and notice not only the beautiful light filtering through the glowing green leaves, but the spaces of blue sky between them.
By softening my focus, I would shift my perspective of seeing the leaves as their natural green and then teasing my brain to believe the blue negative spaces were the actual leaves. A tree with blue leaves consistent with a genus Dr. Seuss would be proud of.
I was thinking of this adolescent game while contemplating the challenge of altering our perhaps negative perspective, especially during difficult times. Can we fool our brains into a healthier pattern of thinking as easily as changing the color of leaves from green to blue?
The answer is yes.
Many people have asked me how meditation prepares us to live in a mindful manner. When we are in a challenging situation, the tendency is to react in a learned pattern that may or may not be beneficial. This is when our words or actions are reactionary and often lead to embarrassment or hurting others.
During meditation, we are focusing on our breath and are in a calm state. Our brains have the space to process details and our minds have time to reflect on what words or actions are beneficial or hurtful. While we are unable to voluntary control the inner workings of our brains, we do have the ability to control our own minds. By taking the time to view a situation from a non-reactive state, meditation is a tool for creating new patterns of speaking or behaving.
Creating new patterns through meditation is especially helpful during anxious times or for individuals experiencing moments of high anxiety. A common mindfulness tool is to utilize your senses. Instead of focusing on what is causing the anxiety, engage your senses. If possible, close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself, what 3 sounds can I hear? What do I smell? What is the taste on my tongue? How does the surface I’m sitting on feel?
Engaging your senses and focusing on your breath in a daily meditation, allows you to create a new familiar pattern that can be called upon during unpleasant moments. By losing focus on what is causing the anxiety, you allow your brain space to process the experience and gain perspective on the present moment.
Sometimes losing focus makes sense.
If you are new to meditation or looking for further mindful methods to work with anxiety, these books are excellent resources: