“I’ve got such a mess between my ears, like dishes in the sink. Stuff I don’t believe just tumbles in so I don’t have room to think”- David Wilcox (Empty Out the Inside of My Head)
This common experience is one that leaves in its wake, distress and is a fertile breeding ground for depression. What are some of the troubling thoughts that fill up your symbolic sink?
- I’m a failure.
- I’m not smart enough to go to college.
- No one loves me.
- I’m too much or not enough to be in a healthy relationship.
- I don’t matter and have no purpose.
- I’ll never get it right.
- Everyone else is happy, except me.
- I don’t deserve to have what I want.
As a therapist working with clients in an outpatient addiction and recovery practice, I recall a poignant and powerful statement from a single father of three teenagers. He was insistent that they clean up the kitchen after preparing meals, reminding them, “The sink is for washing dishes and not storing dishes.” How often do we store the dishes that represent the disturbing beliefs we hold so that they, like literal dinnerware accumulate stuck-on stuff? Imagine instead, running soapy water over them and allowing the remains to go down the drain.
Another potent metaphor is that of a glass half filled with water. You can hold it still for only so long and then your arm begins to shake and with it, the liquid within. A few minutes more and the tremors may increase as the water sloshes over the edge, drenching your arm and the floor. It is only when you still your hand and the glass that it remains contained. So it is with our over active brains. That is where mindfulness becomes a helpful tool.
“Focusing on the here and now helps individuals become aware of their negative thoughts, acknowledge them without judgment and realize they’re not accurate reflections of reality,” says William Marchand, M.D., in his informative book entitled Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Your Guide to Recovery. Marchand is a psychiatrist who specializes in mindfulness as a therapeutic tool.
He adds, “When we practice mindfulness, we experience these difficult thoughts and emotions. But we experience them as an observer – rather than being washed away by the never-ending torrent of cognitions and feelings that flood our minds. By becoming moment-to-moment observers of our thought process, we learn to just watch the deluge without getting carried away in the current.”
Still Waters Run Deep
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are, and the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.”
So, how can we become mindful, instead of mind-filled to overflowing?
- Remind yourself when pulled into the past which is generally where depressing thoughts are formulated, “I am here and now, not there and then.”
- As simplistic as that might sound, consider how often throughout the day, particularly when in the midst of stress inducing circumstances, you hold your breath.
- Observe what is around you. Remember the childhood game, “I spy with my little eye”? You can adapt it to, “I spy with my mindful eye,” and then state what you see around you.
- Engage in object awareness. Hold a flower, stone or strawberry in your hand and experience it with all of your senses. Attempt to describe it as if to someone who has never seen it before.
- Full sensory eating. Pick a favorite treat and smell, see, taste, touch and hear it in silence.
- Wash the dishes or fold clothing with total attention to what you are doing.
- Take a walk. This too can be meditative as you focus on each step as a distinct movement. A labyrinth can be an effective tool to assist in slowing your movement.