When asked about meditation or mindfulness, we need to be careful about the use of certain words that can be a real turn off to many- like “spiritual”, “light”, and “energy”. While there’s nothing wrong with those words, it’s like throwing a bucket of water on a lit match- the match being those who are curious but weary of trying it out. When you’re going through a hard time, no one wants to hear “I’m sending you love and light”. What the hell is that?! Will I feel it when it arrives? Am I now obligated to send it back?
When I’m asked about coping mechanisms, therapy options, and ways to overcome the hard times, I have to be very cautious about what words I choose and with whom, because while the tools I’ve learned or know of are effective, they are not easy to “sell” if you label them with religious and spiritual tags. If presented in the wrong way, they can either come off as overwhelming, impossible to implement, or even boring and ineffective. The problem with this, is that we’ve seen through science and research that these “mindful tools” actually work in treating anxiety, depression, addiction, codependency, and can positively promote one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Over the weekend, I was speaking with someone who was at the end of their rope dealing with their partner’s addiction and PTSD. As I was trying to explain the benefits of mindfulness and being “present” (as opposed to ruminating on past events or future desires) I explained that I’m not always “being mindful”, and when I’m stressed I don’t always go find a cushion to sit on and meditate my stress away. Practicing mindfulness, meditating, practicing gratitude, patience, compassion, etc., these are all just tools that I selectively choose to pull out of my “Mindful Toolbox” when I find myself in a rut. Using the right tools at the right time is the key to effectively solving problems. It is easy to think drinking (or any addictive behavior) our problems away is an effective tool for reducing stress or eliminating our problem, but unfortunately as much as we want to believe it, it just makes our problems worse or can extend the length of time we suffer. That is obviously not the right tool for those times.
And while it would be nice if we could just have that one “Swiss army knife” that “did it all” unfortunately, there isn’t one in life. That said, here are just a few tools that I’ve found work well for me, and when I use them:
Gratitude: Like a screwdriver, it can be used to put together almost anything. So long as you have screws. In life, when things don’t go our way, we feel “screwed”. We often don’t see anything positive about what we’re going through. Everything is so immediate. Practicing gratitude is an awesome tool to use, not just when things get sticky, but daily. Every morning, the moment you wake up, take a few deep breaths and think or say out loud: “Thank you for another day. Thank you for this breath.” Because frankly, the alternative is you don’t get another day and you don’t get another breath… yikes…
Patience: Patience is comparable to a cordless power drill. First, you need to know how to use one, and second, if you don’t have the right charge, your tool is useless. Patience isn’t about sucking it up and bottling up all your disappointment and anger. It’s about realizing you can’t build anything unless you’ve got a positive charge, and in order to do that, you can’t have a negative charge. Take a time-out if you need to. Breathe, and get positively charged. Not everything needs your immediate response. Patience is what keeps you from saying and doing things that hurt yourself and others in the long run. And although it seems counter-intuitive, it actually gets the job done much faster than shooting from the hip. You can see clearly and because of that, your chosen response comes from a place of meaningful and positive power as opposed to negative chaos.
Compassion: The glue that binds everything together. There’s this famous story in Buddhism about lunch in heaven and lunch in hell. Both places have a gorgeous set up with huge dining tables covered with the most delicious food, and both places require that the only way to eat the delicious food is to use the forks provided. The problem is the forks are 5 feet long. Obviously, in hell, they suffered for eternity, unable to eat because the forks were too big. In heaven, they were happy and full, as they used the forks to feed each other. This is compassion: the conditions in our human life can be the same, but depending on our attitude and beliefs, the way we experience life will vary significantly.
Love: This is about as close as we will ever get to having a Swiss army knife. Love truly is the answer to everything; but the problem with this is that very few people understand what Love really is, and out of all the tools in the Mindful Toolbox, is probably one of the most difficult to master.
What is love?
Love can be understood and experienced in so many ways. But to me, my favorite definition of love is found in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-13:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not become angry easily. Love does not remember wrongs done against it. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices over the truth. Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always continues strong. Love never ends… When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I made plans like a child. When I became a man, I stopped those childish ways. It is the same with us. Now we see as if we are looking into a dark mirror. But at that time, in the future, we shall see clearly. Now I know only a part. But at that time I will know fully… So these three things continue forever: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.