Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Mindfulness is a process
As a clinician who specializes in mindfulness, I often get people who tell me that they want to do “the mindfulness thing” in order to accept something negative that has happened in their lives. They want to get over a breakup, death, disappointment. They believe that if they can come accept “what happened” they can stop suffering and move on. They want to stop reacting to an event and “accept” what is, without getting emotional or upset.
Mindfulness certainly helps you to come to terms with things that you are suffering with but it so much more complex than that. The first part is the acceptance, but that’s not where it ends. Acceptance is the off ramp to something bigger. Unfortunately, people work to get to acceptance and they stop there, never going deeper into the process. Let me explain.
Part of suffering occurs when we have expectations, beliefs and feelings about something or someone. When those expectations are shattered, our beliefs challenged and icky feelings show up. Life feels unmanageable and unbearable because things are out of our control and we feel alone in the process. We want to work through those feelings as quickly as we can and we use avoidance, denial, substances or anger/depression to cope.
Through a mindfulness lens, you are asked to sit with these uncomfortable things, over and over again so that over time, the charged reactions will lessen. Below are 5 A’s of mindfulness which can help you navigate whatever struggle you are going through.
The first A is accepting that you are dealing with something and that it sucks. You’re not necessarily ok with what happened, but you accept that right now you are not ok.
The second A is assessing. Here you learn to explore and assess the beliefs, feelings and expectations that led to your sadness, stress and anxiety. Assessing is crucial for tapping into where your beliefs and expectations came from and identifying whether these beliefs were limiting, are outdated or rooted in someone else’s messaging. Did you learn that being married and having kids is everything? Where did that come from? Why is that so important?
Assessing gives way to the third A, active questioning. Questioning about whether there are patterns that you have engaged in that keep you stuck? Questioning whether fear kept you in a situation that was not serving you. Questioning whether you have based your identity around certain markers and/or milestones. Questioning about what your purpose can be now that something is gone or that your foundation has been shaken.
These are the moments to ask yourself deeper questions and look at the bigger existential issues. Questioning is also scary, because it may ask you to dismantle long held beliefs, behaviors or patterns.
After you question, you acknowledge. You acknowledge that maybe you were holding on to beliefs and stories that are not healthy for you. You acknowledge your sadness at the end of something. You acknowledge your suffering.
Then finally, you adapt. You figure out your new normal. You explore what you want your new normal to look like and try things that support you in this new normal.
Accept. Accept what is and all of the emotions that come with it (both good and bad)
Assess. Identify what expectations, beliefs and feelings you have held around this issue and how they have been shattered. Assess what role fear is playing in this response.
Actively question. Question where these beliefs came from? Question why you had the expectations that you had. Question whether this reaction is serving a purpose for you. Question the feelings around this issue and whether you have devoted too much time and energy to this issue.
Acknowledge. Acknowledge that maybe some of this stuff is rooted in messages from others. Acknowledge that you held long standing beliefs and expectations that are not manifesting themselves as you expected. Acknowledge that you need support. Acknowledge that a part of you has been lost as a result of this event. Acknowledge that today is less or more painful than yesterday, last week, last month, last year.
Adapt. Ask yourself what this new normal can look like now that you have to shift. Who do you want to be once the pain subsides.
As you incorporate a mindful lens to your life, recognize that it is a work in progress and not linear, however if you continue to be curious and explore your response to things happening in your life, you are better equipped to manage it and enjoy it.
My name is Eddie and I am a mindfulness-based therapist in Bordentown, NJ who specializes in trauma, anxiety and Mom stress. I provide online counseling throughout the state of NJ and specifically in Mercer and Burlington County, NJ (Bordentown, Chesterfield, Robbinsville, Hamilton and Princeton).