Being Mindful as a Part of Life

Ben Motley with the Palmetto Peace Project is working with Hospice & Community Care to offer Mindfulness classes, twice a month, free of charge to the public.  When asked to define Mindfulness, Ben explained that Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judgment.  

“What we often find is that it takes practice, in the same way, we might weight lift or exercise.  Mindfulness might be thought of as exercising the brain in a way that allows us to pay attention to the present moment without judgment so that we can be more present for the people in our lives, more present for ourselves, and more aware of our day to day experience.  So the benefits that seem to come from Mindfulness practice include better emotional regulation, which is basically the ability to manage different emotions.  The ability to manage stress and anxiety as part of emotional regulation.  And the ability to be empathetic towards others, to be caring for others and their experiences, and what they are going through.”  

“I grew up with a lot of anxiety and when I got to be around 20, I didn’t want to spend the next 80 years, or whatever time I have left, with that level of anxiety.  And so I started studying Mindfulness.  I lived in Thailand for a year studying Mindfulness and practicing Mindfulness.  And so it was always part of my life from the age of 20.  At the age of 34 or 35 I started getting into it full time, practicing it daily, starting some weekly Mindfulness groups, and doing retreats several times a year,” said Ben.  

“What Mindfulness can offer is perhaps this idea of perspective.  The to-do lists are still going to be there, the responsibilities to their family are still going to be there, but they may find that they develop some more acceptance with change in their lives.  How life is undergoing constant change.  And we can work with this change skillfully in ways that allow us to be more caring towards our family, more caring towards our jobs, and more caring toward ourselves.  Often times when we get caught up in these to-do lists, fight or flight kicks in and stays activated, and as a result that our stress levels go way up and continue to remain high.  Which creates a lot of health problems.  And so I think Mindfulness gives us a chance to start working with that, recognizing when our fight or flight is kicking in and switch into a relaxation response.  I think many people think that multi-tasking is very effective, and it has been proven again and again that multi-tasking actually slows us down and makes us less competent.  I think Mindfulness gives us the chance to take care of things in a considerate and caring way so we do become more skillful at our to-do lists, and we become more skillful at our relationships and in our work.”

According to Ben, in life, we tend to ignore some of the reality of life.  “In hospice naturally you are working with people who are going through huge life transitions, both the patients and the families of the patients.  In our society we don’t talk very much about that, we aren’t very comfortable having those conversations.  I think Mindfulness is a way of helping us accept the reality of things, and helping us learn ways of communicating and expressing in a much more healthy way.” 

“In the west, one of the earlier champions of Mindfulness was Jon Kabat-Zinn, who brought it into the medical field back in the 1970’s and 80’s.  He started studying the effects of Mindfulness practice on patients who were struggling with chronic or terminal illnesses.  When he saw some positive outcomes for them with regard to reduction of stress and how the reduction of stress was connected with other parts of their recovery, Mindfulness became quite widespread in hospitals.  And since then it has moved into the field of counseling and has become very prominent in the field of counseling, so you will see Mindfulness cognitive behavioral therapy.  Which has become more and more popular.  Oxford University kind of champions Mindfulness as it relates to cognitive behavioral therapy.  We see it in the work and treatment of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  You will see in the mental health field, this idea of trauma-informed care is becoming very important.  And it is spreading into the education fields too.  But people are starting to realize that people have experienced different levels of trauma in their life, and their response to that trauma has a huge effect, not just on their mental health, but also on their physical health.  So through understanding what trauma does to an individual and by understanding what we can do to support those individuals, we have better outcomes for individuals, communities, and families.”

There are maybe two or three different categories of people who come to Mindfulness.  “We have some of those who are just overwhelmed by their day to day experiences, who are just looking for some sort of reprieve or approach that may help them handle them.  We have another category of people who approach Mindfulness looking for insight.  Those who are looking for more wisdom as to how to handle their day to day activities, and engage in self-growth. They may realize they are somewhat limited in their ability to relate to their partner, limited in their ability to relate to their kids.  A third category seems to be those who have never heard of it at all, but who are curious.  They show up to learn a bit about what Mindfulness is and why their friend or neighbor might be talking about it.  I think one of the cautions that I give to people is that Mindfulness is not a cure-all.  I think they sell Mindfulness that way in the magazines, and people get the idea that it can fix anything from going bald to issues related to who knows what.  Mindfulness is a way to stay present in the present moment without judgment.  So I always caution people to be careful of their expectations.”  

“As a culture, we really do struggle to handle change and issues,” said Ben.  “I think Mindfulness can really provide people with a vehicle for managing change skillfully.  For being okay with whatever they are experiencing without comparing it to experiences of other people.  Without comparing their path of grief to the path of other peoples’ grief, without trying to predict where the grief will lead them.  But instead be curious about it, to be supportive of themselves as they grieve, and to be able to reach out to a community of people who are walking a similar path.  The mission of hospice is a really good fit for the practice of Mindfulness.”  

If you are interested in attending a Mindfulness meeting, Hospice & Community Care has sessions on the first and third Thursdays of the month.  These sessions are offered free of charge and are open to anyone in the community.  

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