We all went into the helping field because we love to be of help to others. Caregivers give care selflessly, to the best of their ability. If you are in the business of giving care, chances are you are a very compassionate person. Sometimes when life gets so speedy and intense, it is easy to forget who we are and why we do what we do. This is when a mindfulness practice can be good medicine. There are many ways mindfulness benefits caregiving. It can help you focus, help you maintain boundaries, help you have a little more space before you react, and most importantly, it can boost your happiness and allow you to be more present for others.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”(Kabat –Zinn, 1994, p. 4). In mindfulness, the practitioner is focused, but with an open awareness and acceptance—you could even say curios, of whatever may arise. The essential practice of mindfulness involves being present in each moment. When you sit quietly with your own thoughts and in your own body, you start to develop a natural and peaceful curiosity over time. So, when this becomes a practice, it is like building a resilience muscle. Building up a resilience as a person makes you happier. When you are not swayed by reactive emotions and stress, you begin to live a more peaceful existence. When you are feeling balanced and peaceful, you bring this energy to others—family members, coworkers, and patients.
Mindfulness practice takes many forms. Any practice that helps you remain focused and in your own body to be present with your own thoughts and experience, in the moment, is considered a mindful practice. The most common forms of mindfulness practice are yoga and meditation. These practices cultivate attention, awareness and introspection. The reason why they call it a practice is because it is never perfect. One embarks on the path of mindfulness like a curious adventure into being alive. When you show up, over and over again and quiet yourself, eventually you develop a comfort level with everything that arises in the mind and body. This ongoing exploration of the self results in a comfort level with our own experience of living. The things that would normally trigger a strong reaction in your mind become just another source for curious contemplation. It is called a practice because you never get “there.” You just develop the ability to let go of strong emotions through the curious aspect of attention. When you realize that all of your thoughts are passing like the weather, you learn to let go and remain peaceful during all of the stresses of this modern day life.
How does mindfulness practice benefit caregivers?
Caregivers are giving of themselves on a regular basis. Sometimes this means we have to step into family situations that are filled with drama, travel through hectic traffic to get there, make decisions that are difficult and scary, coordinate our activities with co-workers, use complicated devices and phones along the way, and all the while provide compassionate care with a smile. This work is not for the faint of heart. It takes intelligence, skill, patience, and compassion. Those of us in this field have, over time, developed a way to navigate through these tasks. Sometimes this can come at the cost of our own well-being. When your mind is scattered and you are too busy, your ability to enjoy your own life decreases as well as your ability to remain open and compassionate with patients.
As mindfulness training becomes a part of one’s life, your mind races less and your heart opens up. In this ever increasingly busy world, it is very important to take care of one’s mind. Mindfulness actually starts to make you aware of when it is time to take a break from the speed of modern day life, so you can enjoy your life more and be of more benefit to those around you. Mindfulness is a path to happiness. We all could use a little more happiness, gentleness, and less speed in this culture.
How do you begin a mindfulness practice?
Mindfulness is all the rage right now. Although it is an ancient practice rooted in ancient eastern wisdom, it has come into the forefront of modern society in the last few decades. You can google “meditation” or “yoga” and find a wealth of information and classes these days. Luckily, we have instruction and support available in most communities. There are online classes one can take, and programs are usually available through community health centers and hospitals at an affordable cost. The one thing to keep in mind when considering a mindfulness practice is that it requires a commitment. The path to mental well-being and stress reduction requires a constant practice of quieting the mind to reap the benefits. It is suggested that you start off by finding a path that feels welcoming to you (do not be afraid to keep looking until you feel comfortable and at home with a group or a technique). There should be ongoing instruction and learning so you can understand the pitfalls and challenges of curious exploration of your own mind.
Mindfulness practice and contemplative prayer have been around for thousands of years, as a way for the human species to deal with their consciousness and quality of life. We are very lucky to live in a time where we are able to come into contact with these ancient practices in our own communities. As caregivers, we have an obligation to take care of others but the most important thing we can do is take care of ourselves. What good are we to others if we are not happy and enjoying our jobs and life? Mindfulness practice is an adventure. What could be more important than making sure that our time on this planet is enjoyed and that we bring the best of who we are to the world? Mindfulness is a practice that can help you make all of your moments count, in the best way possible.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Pain, Stress and Illness. New York: Dell.