MINDFULNESS AND INNER BEAUTY

A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

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MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION

Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.

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MINDFULNESS FOR SENIORS

You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….

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MANAGING CRAVINGS WITH MINDFULNESS OF THE HEART

The viral pandemic has caused an outbreak of anxiety, depression, loneliness, domestic violence, substance abuse and suicide. Cravings can become unhealthy habits in response to these emotional cues. Many people are self-soothing and self-medicating for the first time with drugs and alcohol. Many others recovering from substance abuse are relapsing.


While professional counseling, medication and reducing the stigma of emotional distress are all critical to reversing this trend, there are simple self-care skills that can make a huge difference in this tragedy that affects so many men, women, youth and children.


The Heart Center

Throughout history, the heart has held a central place in philosophies, religions and other spiritual and contemplative traditions. In Judaism, the heart is the seat of wisdom, emotion and inner intelligence. Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, is known as “the religion of the heart.” The symbol for Sufism is a heart with wings. The Heart Sutra is a foundational recitation in Buddhism that supports the path to joy, wisdom, compassion and freedom from fear and suffering. In Catholicism, the sacred heart represents Christ’s love for all humanity. The “golden rule” (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – Matthew 7:12) is the highest ethical principle common to all religions. Namaste, the ancient Hindu greeting, is expressed with palms together at the heart and acknowledges our interconnectedness. In the yoga tradition, the heart center (aka heart chakra) is the seat of love, compassion, kindness and friendliness.


We often keep our hearts closed to protect ourselves emotionally. This limits our ability to experience and share our heart qualities of love, compassion, kindness, friendliness, forgiveness, generosity and gratitude. Connecting with our heart – opening our heart and sharing our heart qualities with others – can be a deeply healing experience and provide a healthy way to self-soothe in response to cravings.


Mindful Meditation on the Heart

Begin by adopting a comfortable position – sitting, reclining or lying down. The eyes can be open or closed. I recommend closing the eyes at least partially – soft eyes. Honor your decision to simply slow down, noticing the changes in your body and your mind as you do. Connect to your gratitude for the opportunity to take this time for yourself – for your health – for your heart – and for others.

Intention.

We often act on autopilot, sometimes feeding a craving without consciously appreciating our underlying emotional needs. Mindful living and insight into your habits can be cultivated by stating your intention for doing what you are doing. So, as you begin meditating on the heart, honor the fact that you are beginning by saying to yourself, “I am beginning mindful meditation on my heart – and I know I am beginning.” Then honor your intention, perhaps saying, “I am practicing this heart meditation to relieve my own suffering and the suffering of those around me.”


Opening to Sounds and Thoughts.

We often think meditation requires a silent place and a silent mind. While both are nice, we often cannot avoid sounds and we certainly cannot avoid thoughts. It helps to cultivate a welcoming attitude to both. So open the senses wide, welcoming sounds – sounds from inside the body, inside the room or outside the room. Notice sounds coming and going and perhaps notice a space between sounds – maybe even silence – a quiet mind. Welcome both the sounds and the silence. Then shift your attention to thinking. Notice how thoughts naturally come

without any effort. Welcome those thoughts, being grateful for the ability to think and allowing thoughts to come and go without pushing them away – just letting thoughts be. Welcome both the thoughts and the space between thoughts.


Paying Attention to the Breath, Body and Heart.

Drop your attention down into the body and feel the physical sensations in the breath as it moves in and out of the body. Feel the body being breathed by the breath and feel your gratitude for the miracle of your breath. Feel the heart. Feel the breath enlivening the heart. Feel the energy of the breath and the heart moving throughout the entire body. Feel the constant flow of heart energy into every cell of your body, pulsing, throbbing, vibrating, tingling.


Returning Your Attention as the Mind Wanders.

The normal mind is a wandering mind. Wandering of your attention is not a problem. We simply notice when the mind wanders off into sounds or thinking, and we simply bring attention back to the breath, the body and the heart. This may happen over and over again. This returning is an important part of the practice. It may even consume most of the practice. That’s okay.


This practice can last a few seconds or a few minutes, ideally practiced daily either at formal dedicated times for meditation or, many times, randomly throughout the day for a few breaths – a few heartbeats. Mindfulness can reconnect you to your heart – your inner wisdom – your compassion for yourself and others. It may help you manage cravings in a healthy way.


RESOURCES:


DR. JOHN PATTERSON



Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations