When hanging a picture, even if you’re a moderate or full perfectionist, we get out that cute little level, with the green water bubble in the middle? There are two little red lines on either side of the bubble if it is perfectly balanced? We want to see if our posters or paintings will hang just right on the wall. Obviously if it’s not perfect, you walk into the room and something just feels off-center. Hopefully, if you have ever used such a measuring level, you know how very difficult it is to keep the green bubble in the middle between the two lines? Many times, I have looked away for a split second, and cannot fathom how that bubble jutted to the left or right of the center. “Mindfulness” is that easy, and that difficult to maintain. The concept of mindfulness was originally brought to western culture light by Jon Kabat-Zinn who defined it as “the practice of staying in the present moment.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness
The other day one of my senior patients came from a geriatric therapy group for depression. She said “all they talk about is mindfulness and afterward we all go to lunch we laugh while asking each other… what is this mindfulness stuff anyway?” She went on to say that they only hear that it’s “all about staying in the moment.” She felt that none of it was helpful. She went on to ask me if I could help her to define it better. Knowing the patient and many of my patients who are grappling with depression and aging, they need something more concrete than merely abstract words. Most of us do. On a moment of inspiration, and I do believe those are in-spirit synchronous moments, a visual popped into my head of the bubble on the level. I made sure she knew what a measuring level was. I offered to her this analogy; If the bubble is too far off to the left, we are mired in pure emotions with no rational control of them, in other words, we are simply out of control. When we are too far off to the right, we are rigid and logical and unable to be in touch with our feelings. We need to have both in some semblance of balance. In this sense, mindfulness is the art of recognizing when things just feel off. We all remember how agonizing hanging a picture can be when you’re trying to keep the bubble in the middle, and mark it with a pencil, and have the bubble magically slip off the center. Being mindful can be even more difficult because we are constantly sifting and shifting with every thought and feeling that happens by our vulnerable minds. It may not be brain surgery, but it is a lot of hard work at first! As I was told by all my mentors during my 35 years of meditation studies, each time I lamented my monkey mind would sabotage my peace, their response was always the same “practice, practice, practice.” It is the same for the mindfulness bubble. We do not hear about it in a lecture or read it in an article and spontaneously master it. Intellectually, perhaps, but applying it to everyday life is simply hard work as is anything worth achieving.
This concept can really help when we don’t have time to sit down and meditate for 30 minutes. Using the visual and concrete image of the bubble on the level can cognitively assist you in getting back to your center and feeling more balanced. So when you know something is off, whether as extreme as ranting or raving about something or someone, or as mild as having that proverbial little knot starting to form in your stomach, then try applying this exercise. Simply by virtue of stopping for a moment and asking yourself “where is my bubble right now?” you may successfully thwart further distress to your mind, body, work and relationships. A mindful readjusting of your level will hopefully give you that cognitive advantage of coming back to center.
Is this a one-size-fits-all solution to being mindful? There is no such thing. One could argue in the fullness of the traditional Cognitive Behavior Therapy model, we need to examine more closely each thought and pursuing emotion and challenge the thought and underlying meaning. Of course we can do that when we have the time, money and wherewithal for therapy sessions. This is merely an on-the-spot tool to consider for the endlessly defined and re-defined slippery definition of Mindfulness. My best offer is… try it, you might like it.
Since that session months ago with my geriatric patient, I have offered this concept to a dozen clients and another dozen friends. When I offered it that day to my initial patient, she exclaimed “oh my God, that’s exactly what I needed!” Her relief at having a concrete image to conjure was apparent. The response has been the same with many of my other clients who unwittingly longed for a visual definition of mindfulness. Further, when I checked in with them a week or month later, I am heartened to hear that they continue to use it in the regulation of their emotions and reactions to challenging situations and decisions.
In closing, no matter what your stage in life, your vocation or your emotional evolution, allow me to ask you, “Where is Your Bubble?” Hopefully, you are or will soon be exactly where you need to be to hang that picture perfectly.