How to be Mindful
Oh, no, you’re thinking. Not again! She’s not going to talk about that again!
I get it. We hear about “mindfulness” and “being mindful” far too often these days. The word is losing its punch, its meaning. You’re probably getting pretty tired of hearing about it.
Yet mindfulness—the simple practice of intentionally slowing your thoughts down until the only thing you’re thinking of is right here and right now—remains an incredibly powerful tool for living well with rheumatoid disease and other chronic pain diseases and conditions.
Mindfulness can’t cure RD. It can’t stop pain or even prevent it. What mindfulness can do is gently shift your focus away from your symptoms—your fatigue, that flu-ish feeling, your pain, and the anxiety they cause—and onto the simplicity of what you’re doing now, even if it’s just breathing in and out.
What’s more, mindfulness is something you can practice anytime, anywhere, for as little or as long as you want. It doesn’t require the lotus position, incense sticks, or New Age music. Just your attention.
Here are the benefits: first, an almost immediate sense of calm, as if you’ve suddenly found the eye of the hurricane. For a time, you’re at peace.
Second, you feel in control—something that’s incredibly valuable when you’re living with a disease as randomly vicious and painful as RD. For me, one of the hardest things about living with RD is its unpredictability. Sure, I’ve learned to live with the low-level, constant throb of pain in my hands and feet. I just get on with things. I can usually just shrug off the sudden, sharp, transitory twinges of pain, too. But the big flares—the bad ones that hit without warning, cause atrocious pain and, sometimes, disable me—those are tough. Really tough.
Yet by being mindful instead of allowing myself to range into fear of the near and distant future, I’m more able to stay calm and in control of myself, even in the midst of pain. The future—even a second from now—hasn’t happened yet. It doesn’t even exist. I certainly can’t control it and I can’t predict it with any surety. What I can do is live right now, and by focusing on my breathing, or on my life-blood circulating through me, or on my cat’s beautiful fur, or the clear sky, or the breeze moving the leaves of the plants on my patio, I can actually forget my pain. And during that time, whether it’s only for a few seconds, a few minutes, or for longer, I’m calm and in control of myself. It’s a good feeling.
That doesn’t preclude taking more physical steps, of course. Being mindful also means using the tools you have at hand to manage and reduce your pain. Getting an ice-pack from the freezer and placing it gently on a throbbing knee, then focusing on the soothing cold as it penetrates your skin and slowly starts to numb the area is practicing mindfulness, too, as is being grateful for the numbing. Mindfulness is using a heat-pack, or a TENS unit, and focusing on the sensations that help reduce the pain.
Stretching tight muscles—feeling them, enjoying the rush of blood into their oxygen-starved cells, nourishing and warming them, counting off seconds of stretch and seconds of contraction in each muscle—that’s mindfulness, too. Doing repetitive motions that slowly and gently build and strengthen those muscles is a practice of mindfulness, as well. You know as you’re doing it that you’re in control, and you have the ability to be glad for that and for the body that allows you to move through your world, see it, and revel in it.
Mindfulness can help you manage your RD pain and other symptoms. It helps me. It’s not always easy, but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by practicing it.
Want to learn how to be mindful? Some very good books include:
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zin
- Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hahn
- The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
- The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle