The present of being mindful

Eating disorders commonly co-occur with anxiety disorders. A 2004 study found that two-thirds of people with eating disorders suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives and that around 42 percent had developed an anxiety disorder during childhood, well before the onset of their eating disorder.

I am usually plagued by insecurity, dread, persistent stress, irrational fears. I guess I fall in that 42%, proving that anorexia is not just about the eating.

The Latin root of anxiety is angere, to choke or strangle—just the sort of sensation felt during a panic attack. Anxiety is multisystem response to a perceived threat or danger, or fear of fearing.

Fear is excitement, only deprived of breath. So the best way to cope fear of food, of weight, of failing, is to start breathing. Meditation and mindfulness could bring me this.

Being mindful can be defined as an intentional and non judgmental awareness of the present experience. It is about receiving the “now” with openness, curiosity and acceptance. It allows us to investigative quality of the mind. We become scientists doing experiments with our inner states.

Being mindful you will have a greater awareness of who you are. You wake up to yourself and understand the freedom you have to lead your life! You give yourself clarity and direction in your mind.

Remember, nothing lasts forever. No thought, no emotion. They all come and go. Only if you grasp them and you don’t let them go they will stagnate. Your emotions will create thoughts, your thoughts will lead you to certain actions, your actions will define your identity. And your identity will nourish your ego and bring new emotions.

Mindfulness is not the absence of thoughts. This is a key thing to remember to avoid blame, disappointment and frustration.

The brain has its own intrinsic activity. Our mind wanders by nature. It drifts thoughts, feelings, memoriess and other sensory stimulations. 

Patterns of thoughts are slowly created and becoming aware of them slowly allow you to transform them. This is because our neurons are not fixed, they can change their connexions and firing frequencies (neuroplasticity is indeed a fascinating topic!).

Seeing how the mind wanders off let you the choice of bringing it back or let it wander. The wanders brings you presence and the freedom to choose your thoughts.

There is not right or wrong. Good or bad thoughts. We tend to judge things and we wish they were different. We make plans for the future and ignore the present moment. Being mindful means to reach open and non-judgemental mind and being self-compassionate. 

It should be a moment of celebration to see how your mind is doing its job and wanders off. Thus it wouldn’t make sense to punish yourself or to lose faith in mindfulness because that is what mindfulness is about!

Life for me has been like swimming from past to future avoiding the gift of the present. I was immersed in regrets, anxious about the future and its many challenges.

Being mindful has shown me how useless it is to keep telling me what happened in the past or worrying about the future; and how much I needed to come back to the present. 

I am living right now. I only need to survive the next couple of seconds, and then all can start again. 

When we are constantly anxious, our autonomic nervous system (if you wonder what this is, watch an amazing crash course video here) only allows the sympathetic nervous system to work. We live in a FIGHT OR FLIGHT mode, preparing our bodies for the danger to come, explaining why the heartbeat and the breathing become fast. Taking a deep breath, can allow us to awake the parasympathetic system and live in the REST AND DIGEST mode.

For example, slow diaphragmatic breathing before a meal will not only prepare the body for digestion, but also send signals to the mind that you are safe and so the mind will be able to relax after the meal.

The main issue for me in the beginning of the practice is that sitting down, calmly, was easy in the moments of peace but certainly not in the middle of an anxiety crisis. It totally makes sense. Imagine, if you knew that a lion was coming to attack you, last thing your body would say is “stop there and take a deep breathe”. 

But when the anxiety comes from food or the idea of gaining weight, there is no true danger there. It will be only the eating disordered mind telling us not to breathe and calm down, because the result of it would be a rational thought against the restrictive plans of the eating disorder. After years listening to that sneaky voice, convincing me that I should’t give mindfulness a try because it wouldn’t help, I am not surprised I had lost faith and confidence.

But that is when mindfulness comes. It is not just about the breathing, first you need to understand who is telling you not to stop and breathe.

My eating disorder voice always does a campaign in my thoughts to convince me to follow him. But I am saying bye, because I don’t need it anymore. After practising mindfulness I am aware of which thoughts are guided by the disordered voice and I choose to go in the opposite direction. Not only I slowly become free of them but I also become more confident, because I am convinced that I diverge from them myself. I am the master of my recovery.

In that sense, one of my favourite new exercises is a Tennis Match with my ED voice. The idea is very simple: it consists on answering back to that evil internal voice with positive statements. The more you play, the easier it becomes to find answers and to avoid to be caught in the net of negative thoughts. Visualising it as a real game you have to go through five rounds of positive statements. The thoughts come and go from one field to the other, and none of the parts attach to them. At the end result, you win and you take back the control of your mind.

After a while practising, the answers can even have some humour on it, and the match will start to turn delirious and you will realise how far from the present reality are the eating disordered thoughts.

I find this technique really stimulating and motivating, and its base is completely anchored on mindfulness principles. Mindfulness is much more than a sitting meditation and playing tennis with your thoughts can equally bring you back to the present and recover trust.

Another nice exercise that I practice is going to the movies with my own mind. Scientists call it open monitoring. The idea is to observe the inner states of your mind, as if you were following your thoughts on a screen. In this exercise, you don’t try shift the thoughts but to monitor them. See the space of your life and live in there.

With this conscious form of daydreaming I have learnt a lot about myself. I can observe which emotion triggers each thought, and whether a given thought will make me sad or happy in the present moment, or in long term. If I follow this though, what will my action bring to myself and to other people?

You sit in your experience and see how it flows moment after moment. Just be aware that the mind is wandering.

From what has been explained anyone can guess that meditation can help anyone. You don’t need to have an eating disorder to grow as a person being mindful.

The breath in meditation is only the focus of our awareness. It is an anchor to the present but you could do other things like visualise yourself sitting somewhere. Ideally, you could be in a forest, to starting growing your roots, like a majestic tree. Then you can imagine a warm sunlight travelling down your body and melting your fears, letting your emotions and feelings flow, always keeping the sensation of the warm  sunlight on your body.

Meditation helps us fighting the ruminating nature of human mind. It invites everyone to tune into their own capacity of attention., in a process of metacognition (if this word seems Chinese to you, check this instructive TED talks). Cultivating attention presence and awareness can be done anytime, anywhere by anyone.

I have learnt about who I am and in the meanwhile, I grow into what it means to be a human – and to connect myself with that humanity.

I have stopped taking myself so seriously. Who am I? If I am not my thoughts, who am I?

I am much bigger than I ever thought I were.

We are bigger than our thoughts, emotions, sensations, than the story of our life.

I have set a daily date of mindful moment, where I jump into my body. This can happen no matter how heavy or light, how tall or small I am. That is not what matters in mindfulness nor in life.

It is an experiment where I get data to inform how I want my life to be in the next moment. I get the self authorship of my life.

I appreciate the joy of being, I feel a new form of wellbeing. I savor it and I do not  blame myself for not always being!

Mindfulness is not fun. It is not about feeling good or at peace. At least not in the beginning.

The beginning of the practice was tough, almost devastating. I became aware of all the demons inside; but focusing on myself, I opened the Pandora Box where they were buried and I could only face them.

In the process of turning into my experience it was like looking myself into the mirror. Not a physical mirror, but an ethereal one. I saw the pain in my body and my soul, the memories, the emotions and the thoughts that I had suppressed and never healed. Uncomfortable feelings are strategic and needed to tell you about yourself. Once you become aware of them and you embrace them, you will be able to take action to change those aspects of your experience that bother you.

You will encounter pleasant and difficult thoughts, emotion and sensations. Life is just about that. Embracing the totality of what you are as a human being, that is what being mindful means to me.

Sadness, pain, anxiety and anger are the fertile soil to joy an gratitude to arise organically. Stepping back and living with wakefulness and with a purpose allows me to cultivate those flowers for my life, away from the jungle of thoughts that I kept holding.

Remember also that mindfulness is a personal experience. It is not a pill. So you’ll have to practice and find what better fits to your needs. Anyone can do it and it is a space you cultivate for yourself! Besides, as you’ll flow and evolve those needs may change so your mindfulness experiences will also change!

Each time you start a mindfulness practice, you should come with a beginner’s mind. Do not have any assumption or expectation for it. Do not judge yourself over it. You would never try what real mindfulness is about otherwise.

Being humans is like being a guesthouse, is being ready to welcome all experiences knocking to our doors.

Being a human implies embracing the fullness of who we are.

I need myself permission to be human. Today, and the rest of my days.

“It is through your body that you realise you are a spark of divinity.”

-B.K.S. Iyengar


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