Before my trauma, if you’d asked I would’ve told you that I was pretty aware of my own sense of self and how I interacted with the world. After my trauma, I look back on my naïve self and smile. I was doing the best I could with the information I had at the time and I probably was reasonably aware of these things. Yet, I wasn’t nearly as aware as I am now. (Looking ahead, I can imagine a time in the not too distant future when I cringe at the things I’ve written now – why didn’t I know something, how could I have ever thought that x was caused by y?)
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness – basically, the practice of paying attention to the current moment, without judgement– is one of those things I learned about after the trauma that causes me to look back and wonder what I was doing with my life back then. The lack of a significant amount of mindfulness in my life pre-trauma surprises me now. Not that I wasn’t compassionate or open to experiences, or that I was never focused on the present whilst all around me were looking elsewhere.
It’s just that now I’m much more keenly aware of it. Now I live my life more mindfully and purposefully than before. Based in part on Buddhist traditions, the concept of mindfulness has moved beyond the spiritual realm into the modern world as a way to deal with emotional and psychological conditions like anxiety, stress, and addiction. That’s the context I know it in, though I imagine it works pretty well for everyone, for grounding and helping to avoid those conditions, as well.
People look at mindfulness in different ways. I like Melanie Greenberg’s take on the key concepts:
- Focus on the present moment
- Be fully present
- Be open to experience
- Be non-judgmental
- Accept things as they are
- Feel connected
- Don’t hold on to things, people, or experiences
- Maintain peace and equanimity
- Practice compassion
My life is not perfect post-trauma. These things take work. And there are days when that just isn’t going to happen. Maybe I’m struggling for some reason or feeling judgmental and indifferent and can’t get out of my own way. Or I’m feeling well enough that the idea of mindfulness seems superfluous.
The big difference between before and after is that now I often am able to recognize what I’m feeling in the moment. And gets me half, if not more, of the way there.