By Julia Prentice
I’ve been studying mindfulness for about 17 years, which is a relatively short time, but it has made a huge difference in my life.
Studying Thich Nhat Hanh made me so aware of consciously, “just doing the dishes.” It was a revelation and a revolutionary thought for me. As a working mom of three boys, this was unheard of; I was always multitasking and thinking about the future. As someone with PTSD and serious depression, I also spent a lot of time wrapped up in the past. A quote from a 12-step program I attended is, “You’ve got one foot in yesterday, one foot in tomorrow, and pissing on today.” That was pretty much it.
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in 2001. I’ll save talking about diagnoses and labels for a different writing. Anyway, I began attending a skills group and working with a therapist trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. This treatment mode was designed by Marsha Linehan to combine Cognitive Based Therapy with Eastern mindfulness practices. She studied in India and later brought that training to the west to work with Jon Kabat Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine.
DBT was my salvation; it gave me skills to manage extreme emotional states. It clued me into the power of the present moment. Along with other class members, I learned grounding techniques, breathing exercises, and guided imagery. We were taught a guidebook for living in the now. Without these tools, my depression and extreme emotional states might have been the end of me.
Fast forward 17 years: I have been trained and have been assisting leading DBT skills groups for persons with severe mental health challenges. As a Certified Peer Specialist working with a clinical team, I coach people often on mindfulness techniques, breathing and grounding exercises. and share what has worked for me.
So, why the heck don’t I practice what I preach? On any given day, my mind can be tugged into the future worries and petty aggravations of human existence while simultaneously catapulting me back to the days of trauma. Voila! Here I am again, “Pissing on today.”
As humans, we aren’t taught to live in the moment. Our Western culture is set up for multitasking. We have to perform multiple job duties and play our many roles. Our spare time is often spent dreaming about tomorrow and ruminating about past experiences.
We can easily miss out on the little things that are rising up to meet us in the present moment: seeing a beautiful piece of nature, listening to the joy of a child’s laughter, or sitting down and just letting ourselves feel the smooth worn wooden bench. I hear the singing bowl at church, and I am transported to a place of deep peace and relaxation. Can’t I ring my own bell?
I realize I sometimes need a coach to guide me just as I guide our clinic members. I receive guided meditation led by a dear friend over the phone and provide reciprocal guided meditations for her. I read about and practice breathing techniques: three part breath, paced breath, and following the breath through the body. The doctor prescribed progressive muscle relaxation when I am trying to fall asleep (sleep is elusive on many days). When I can force myself, it has wonderful benefits. I had a restorative yoga coach I worked with after a difficult ankle surgery (Ananda Yoga practice).
Do we always need a coach, a guru, or a yogi to teach and guide us to a better quality of life? Can we be our own… Can I be my own? Why don’t I…?
Julia Prentice is a deeply feeling Cancer, and still has poetry from teenage years, when words were her salvation. She lives in California with her soulmate and a current furry companion. Former ASL interpreter, a passionate Peer Supporter of persons with mental health challenges, knitter, educator, crafter and singer. She writes like breathing: in ragged gasps, mighty shouts, half-voiced whispers. Always she is compelled to write. Finalist for ‘The Poet’s Billow’ Atlantis Award 2015. Published in the “Temptation Anthology”, “Where Journeys Meet – The Voice of Women’s Poetry” and “Poetry As a Spiritual Practice – Illuminating the Awakened Woman”. Her blog: rebel1955.wordpress.com
Editor: John Pendall