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We all work hard to make our lives secure and comfortable, but in the end it’s just not possible to completely control what happens.
To use a popular analogy, life is like an endless series of big waves coming at you in the ocean. You can try to stop them – and get regularly dumped – or you can learn how to surf them.
Mindfulness is a bit like learning to “surf” stressful situations instead of being constantly dumped by them.
It’s a proactive mental health skill.
It’s about discovering that some of the habitual ways we try to mentally and emotionally deal with stress actually make it worse.
Two of our most common habits are also two of the least productive – see if you can recognise them in your own life.
The first habit is the trap of thinking about a stressful situation over and over again.
Psychologists call this ruminating. We’re not talking about productive thinking, where your thoughts are intentional, focused and actually achieve a positive solution.
We’re talking about rehashing the past and worrying about the future in a way that is not only unproductive, but even seems unstoppable at times.
Sound familiar? The second habit is the trap of trying to push away or avoid stressful feelings. Most of us would agree that feeling afraid, sad, angry, lonely or tense is not pleasant.
So it makes sense that we try to distract ourselves from these feelings, or get rid of them somehow, right? In mindfulness, this is called aversion.
The trouble is psychologists now know that aversion actually makes things worse in the long run.
Through mindfulness training, we learn new mental habits that allow us to handle difficult situations more productively.
Instead of aversion, we learn the surprising power of having a nonjudgemental acceptance of all our thoughts and feelings, including unpleasant ones.
And instead of being caught up in endless ruminating about the past and future, we learn how to be simply present.
Through learning these new ways of working with the mind, we learn how to deal with stressful situations in ways that are more positive, balanced, and calm.
We learn how to surf the waves of life instead of being dumped by them.
All of which means: less stress.
Of course, the best way to understand any of this is to experience it for yourself.
For a free guided mindfulness meditation, visit mindfulnessforliving.com.au.