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Mindfulness: A Requirement to Living Authentically

I’m sure this is not the first time you have heard about the importance of mindfulness. Whether it’s social media, magazines, the internet, app stores, mindfulness is all the rage. If you look at the research, there are some pretty amazing things that can happen to our brains and bodies when we implement a daily mindfulness practice. So, it’s no surprise that our society can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s quick, effective, and provides a multitude of benefits. With that being said, mindfulness can also feel daunting to those who are first practicing it. In our current society where being busy is viewed as a social status, it can feel almost impossible to find even just five minutes a day to make space for this practice. When people do find the time, they often feel frustrated with the process as their brains seem to be on warp speed. So why then do I still preach the importance of this practice to my clients even when they are frustrated and probably tired of me bringing it up? The short answer: it’s a vital component towards reaching most therapeutic treatment goals, especially for those who are working towards living authentically. It’s basically a non-negotiable. I also know that with a little tweaking of our schedules and repetition with a mindfulness practice, these barriers can be overcome. If you have five minutes to scroll through Facebook or watch TV, you have five minutes to practice mindfulness. So, you may be wondering how living authentically and mindfulness relate. Well, I’m glad you asked! Say Hello to Your Old Friends Some days I bring up things in session and my clients look at me like I have two heads. I can’t always predict when I will get that kind of reaction, but I can pretty much bet on it on the days where I will be explaining to a client that we as humans have many parts or subpersonalities that make up our whole being. I’ve heard everything from, “so you’re saying we all have multiple personality disorder?” to “that makes absolutely no sense” to “that makes total sense, no wonder I feel like I can’t ever get out of my head!” I totally get all of those reactions. It can feel validating but also extremely confusing. Unless you have been in therapy before with someone who utilizes either Depth Psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems, Parts Psychology, or any other theory that focuses on this parts concept, this probably feels very strange. With that being said, even those who are resistant to the idea typically change their tune pretty quickly once they experience getting to know the different parts of themselves or as I like to call them, their old friends. For example, let’s say a co-worker asks you to get together this weekend because they are having a hard week and need to vent. A huge part of you automatically wants to say yes. However, another part of you knows that you are exhausted and are really needing some time alone. If you tend to have difficulties setting boundaries or being a “people pleaser,” the first part probably tends to win in those situations and that other part probably doesn’t even get a say in the matter. This dynamic has most likely been part of your life for a long time because it is driven by that protector part who wants to say yes. It’s almost like we are on auto-pilot because we normally wouldn’t even have given a thought to it. Kind of like I mentioned in my last post, many of our internal parts are forced into exile or into the shadow realm which makes it difficult for them to have a voice. Why exactly does that happen? At some point, a wounding most likely occurred that caused physical or mental pain to your system. It may not be what you would consider a big deal but trust me, your inner child and other parts that were present at the time probably would beg to differ. Being that your internal system was doing its job of keeping you safe, it took that wounding and said, “we’re not going to let that happen again, that was way too much for us to handle.” Why do those parts automatically assume we’re to blame for what occurred? This happens because your internal protectors typically know that they can’t change others or external circumstances, especially during childhood. What those parts can do in a means to gain that control that they associate with avoiding pain is banish those parts that they blamed for the occurrence of that wounding. Something along the lines of, “life would be a lot easier if you would just go away” was most likely communicated to the exiled parts by those protectors. The Battle of the Parts So, it probably makes total sense that we don’t want to walk around incomplete and with parts of ourselves hiding out. It just doesn’t sound healthy, right? But you might still be wondering how does that lead to living a more authentic life? Remember, all of our parts have the same objective; to keep us safe. If we are still living in this moment, they have obviously done their job. However, sometimes the ways they attempt to keep us safe interferes with us living from a place of wholeness. While this can be a lengthy process of getting those protector parts to allow all aspects of ourselves to be present, and usually requires a therapist to assist, the good news is that through some deliberate mindfulness practices it can happen. Over time, we can start to recognize when those protectors are showing up in our day to day lives and how they continue to reinforce the pattern of us not living authentically. Who’s Driving the Bus? I have learned so many amazing things in my own therapy over the years. One of those pearls of wisdom that sticks out the most is a metaphor about a bus. Basically, the way it was explained to me is to imagine a bus in which all parts of ourselves are passengers. At any given time, any of those parts could be in the driver’s seat. Some of those parts make excellent drivers. They carry an innate GPS. They know where they’re headed and they know how to get everyone there safely. However, sometimes we have other parts of ourselves that try to hijack the bus and they have no business being in the driver’s seat. After all, would you really want a five year old driving a bus you were riding on? Once I started really becoming mindful of who was driving my internal bus, it helped tremendously in me being able to recognize that I was not showing up authentically in many of my interactions or the decisions I was making. I was instead showing up from a fear based place which was driven by a protector part. This definitely took a lot of practice to be able to recognize this because again, it’s such a quick process as our parts work extremely efficiently. Still to this day I’m not perfect at it. It’s also probably not realistic to assume that you have the time or awareness to pause and check the license of your internal bus driver after every interaction or decision you make from here on out. That’s why I recommend starting small with these steps: 1) Develop a regular mindfulness practice (even if it’s just 5-10 minutes a day) and make it a consistent habit. It’s a lot easier to check-in with our internal parts if we already have a practice in place that we use to clear our minds. 2) Pay very close attention to any physical or emotional symptoms that you are showing up throughout your day. These may not be super apparent, it might come more in the form of noticing tension in your shoulders or jaw or feeling irritable. Try and think back to exactly what occurred right before you noticed those signs. If you have the time to jot them down, even better. 3) At the end of each day, for five minutes, reflect back on your day. If you jotted anything down or noticed anything from step two, now is the time to focus on that. Even if you didn’t notice anything throughout the day, think back to any interactions or decisions that you made and just notice if you feel an inkling of discomfort as you reflect on them. Notice if you are feeling resentful of any those interactions or decisions you made. Notice if looking back on it you wish you had said no but instead said yes or maybe wish you would have spoken up on something but were afraid to in the moment. 4) If you’ve identified any of these things or maybe others that aren’t listed but point to an area that you were not honoring your wants and needs, now is the time to think about that inner bus and who was driving it for you in those moments? 5) Once you’ve identified the driver, see if they are willing to let you in a little bit. Coming from a place of curiosity with questions such as, “who are you?” or “how long have you been around for?” or “what do you need to feel safe?” can be especially helpful. 6) Don’t be surprised if these parts are less than forthcoming in the beginning. It takes time for them build trust. 7) At the beginning of each day, devote an extra five-ten minutes to your morning routine to check-in with your parts. This can be as simple as sitting on your couch, taking a few deep breaths, and asking yourself internally, “are there any parts that need my attention today?” If you notice a physical sensation, an image, or a thought pop up, try sitting with that and asking, “what part are you and what do you need from me today?” Even with the direction of these seven steps, this practice can still feel extremely strange in the beginning. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just like with anything in our lives, we must practice new skills before mastering them. Even if you only commit to step one and two for a couple of weeks, you’re headed in the right direction.