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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Find Your Happy Place

 
Everyone these days talks about mindfulness and meditation.  Zen is in.  Don't get me wrong, this is a good thing.  Our society operates primarily from the other side of the coin. We focus on doing not being.  We have constructed lives for ourselves that are so spiritually empty and stressful that many of us struggle with chronic physical and mental malaise and we are getting desperate to find a better way to live.

I have struggled with anxiety since childhood, and I would say that the most common problem my clients present during counselling is anxiety. Even if you don't have an anxiety disorder, chances are there are times you have difficulty keeping your cool.  In the car? Dealing with the guy at the hardware store who won't let you return the screwdriver? The barista who got your coffee order wrong after you waiting for 10 minutes to get it? When your son forgets his homework at school...again?

I took that meditation course a few years ago and though I was completely intrigued by the philosophy behind it, I found that traditional meditation is not something I can do. I know real zen folks claim its something we can all do, but really, I can't.  My brain never shuts down, not even at night - as evidenced by the wild and crazy dreams I have every single night.  EVERY SINGLE NIGHT!  But I can think about things or do things that relax me.  I read novels before bed every night to calm my mind and help me get to sleep, and occasionally when I am doing something I find stressful (like getting dental work done), I can think about pleasant things and get myself into a state of relaxation. 

Back in September I attended a counselling conference and went to a session focused on using mindfulness techniques for those who have trauma-related anxiety.  I see many, many clients with a history of trauma, whether its from an accident, abuse, loss, etc.  The psychologist talked about how meditation can be especially difficult for those who have experienced trauma as tuning in to bodily sensations or emotions can be triggering and frightening.  He explained how a more effective technique in this situation can be to simply focus on an image that brings you feelings of calm and happiness.  Ideally, this shouldn't be a loved one, since even our loved ones can sometimes cause us anxiety!  It should be something simple about which we have no complicated feelings.  I realized as he was talking that I essentially use this technique myself every day.  Looking at pictures of cute cats makes me feel all warm and fuzzy (no pun intended) and it is instantly calming for me.  Aha, now I recognize that things like Instagram really do have a practical use!

I have started suggesting this image technique to many of my clients - lots of them struggle with traditional meditation like I do - and they love this.  For some cats or other animals are also what gives them happy feelings, or a beautiful place the have visited, or for one client, the beautiful library where he used to go to read in college.

This technique is so simple and effective, I encourage you to try it.  Just remember, no looking at your phone while driving...if you are hitting your boiling point in the car, pull over first before looking at puppies!!

Don't worry, be happy, and have a great day.

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