I have a bumper sticker on my car that says “Don’t believe everything you think.” Here’s my short explanation about the important message of that little bumper sticker.
When I was in graduate school, I interned in the public child welfare system, interacting each day with broken-hearted children and parents whose tragic stories included abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and ongoing, intergenerational poverty. In many cases, lives were complicated and on their way to ruin from substance abuse. As an innocent novice in a hardened, bureaucratic system, my experience was grueling and emotionally draining. I remember coming home from work one day and collapsing, feeling physically exhausted but also confused about why I could possibly be so tired. I was sleeping enough, getting exercise, and eating well. Nevertheless, my work experience was consuming my energy and taking a physical toll on me. Something needed to change.
That’s when I was introduced to mindfulness meditation. I found that sitting quietly and observing my breath each morning helped me. Even just five minutes doing this helped me manage that sense of stress. Over the following years, I developed a mindfulness practice that continues to re-energize and nourish me in countless ways.
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool. It deeply affects my personal life and my professional work. While I still encounter plenty of stressful situations and heart-breaking stories, they no longer unmoor my sense of care and concern. Instead, my mindfulness practice keeps me grounded and helps me attend to these difficult stories without a sense of being overwhelmed. As I open my heart wide enough to hold and bear tragedy, I find that mindfulness offers a source of inner strength and calm.
Having my mindfulness practice hasn’t removed difficult emotions, but it has helped me sit with them and listen for what they have to teach me. It hasn’t erased my angry and sometimes irrational reactions to events, but it has helped me pause and respond more skillfully. The gift of mindfulness gives me the freedom to recognize that I don’t have to believe my deeply imbedded stories of unworthiness, of “not enough,” of being undeserving of love and acceptance. That I can genuinely learn to let things go, and in letting go, I find peace.
Mindfulness is a lived experience. Because mindfulness is so deeply experiential, I invite individuals to dive right into these practices in the therapy room with me, supporting them in exploring being fully aware of the present moment, the here and now. My technique can be as simple as asking someone to pause and notice where in their bodies they feel an emotion; or it can mean teaching a formal, structured meditation practice. Sometimes it means helping someone to become aware of well-worn thought patterns that have not been serving them. Other times it means guiding them to access compassion for themselves. Whatever the method, I’ve witnessed individuals transform as they begin to pay attention to their inner world with greater clarity and kindness.
At Rock Springs, all of our practitioners honor and value the power of silence, space, and self-awareness in the healing process. If you ever find that you are exhausted by the stressors of life, feel trapped in self-defeating stories, or are looking for ways to respond wisely to life’s curveballs rather than reacting out of habit, I invite you to explore these time-honored practices with the support of a seasoned psychotherapist who can personally testify to their power.
And if the thought crosses your mind that you can’t learn mindfulness, remember my little bumper sticker: "Don’t believe everything you think."