The therapeutic relationship in counseling is a beautiful and complicated thing. When the relationship is a good fit and the client feels they can trust the therapist to handle their issues with care and without judgment, therapy can prove to be an incredible foundation for the client to grow and thrive. If you are entering therapy for the first time and come across this writing, this may provide some answers to questions you have going in. If you are seasoned in therapy, you may simply find it interesting. Either way, here are five common questions asked in therapy:
- “How do I know if we are a good fit? Will it hurt the therapist’s feelings if it isn’t?”
This is a fantastic question. Before you shell out hundreds to thousands of hard-earned dollars it is important to question whether the therapist is going to be a good fit. The first step in determining this is to contact the therapist via email or phone. Many therapists will offer about 10 minutes of consultation so you can ask about their style and methods and determine if it is worth setting up an appt. Here at Ann Arbor Psychiatry our admins will help determine a fit based on the issues and availability. Our Prescribing Nurse Practitioners may refer you to one of the clinicians for talk therapy as well. Once you are in session you will get a feel for how you jive with the therapist. Your therapist should be compassionate, alert, professional and non-judgmental. While you may be nervous in the initial session (this is COMPLETELY NORMAL, btw), you should be able to tell if this is someone you will be overall comfortable with over time.
Does your therapist listen to you? If you come in and tell them you want to address a certain issue such as Weight Loss but they spend the entire session focusing on anything else but that, they may not be a good fit. Let me add an exception to this rule: there are times in therapy where diversions take place- for example- a client’s issues with weight loss may be extremely connected to childhood issues which will need to be worked through so in such cases those diversions contribute to a very productive session. However, this usually happens after a relationship has been established and trust has been built.
Is the therapist from a similar background? Do you feel you can connect to the therapist? For some people, they prefer a therapist with similar life experiences as them or from a similar culture or background, and that is totally OK. Some clients don’t care about the race, culture, gender or background and can spill all gory details about their lives with whomever they are placed with, and that’s OK also.
The therapist’s feelings should not be hurt if you don’t feel it is a good fit. Any good therapist cares about your well-being and wants the best for you. If you are someone that needs a completely structured session chalk-full of homework assignments such as a straight CBT therapist, then a more laid-back and eclectic therapist may not be the absolute best fit for you. A good therapist will also let you know if they feel ill-equipped to help you and will often refer you to someone who may fit better. Just please don’t blatantly insult the therapist or throw tomatoes at them on your way out (if you must throw something, we prefer you throw chocolate).
- “Are there any off-limit topics?”
This is a loaded question. It is my personal belief that a client should be able to discuss anything on their mind and not worry about being judged negatively by their therapist. A good practice for any therapist is to practice Unconditional Positive Regard toward their client- a concept by Carl Rogers- that any therapist should accept and support what the client says and does. I must qualify this though- this does not mean the therapist will encourage negative behavior (however we will not shame you or treat you negatively). Also, if you are planning to harm yourself or others we have a duty to warn and report said behavior to authorities. We also are mandated to report child abuse. Unconditional positive regard toward you as the client means we will remain compassionate and positive toward you no matter what because we support your development. You are in therapy because you want to grow and shed the negative and we want to help you, so we regard you positively at all times.
There are some therapists that will not discuss sex with their clients and that are uncomfortable with topics so personal. This could be due to religious beliefs or other reasons, and I guess in that case they are not a good fit for vast amounts of clients but may be a good fit in rare cases. Most other therapists, myself included, believe humans are deeply complex beings with thoughts, feelings, and ideals as numerous as the stars above. It is because of this complexity that a therapist needs to be comfortable discussing any topic the client needs to.
Please don’t be offended if the therapist shows surprise at something said, laughs at something humorous or asks questions about something. For example- when I have clients that identify as ‘non-binary,’ ‘trans’ or similarly, I always ask them to define that for me. The terminology regarding sexual orientation and gender is vast and ever-changing and to better help the individual client I need to know what their identification means to them personally.
- “Why won’t my therapist give me direct advice?”
This is another super loaded question with several answers. There are cases in which we do advise. Examples: 1. If we believe you may need psychiatric care 2. If you contact us during an anxiety attack and need direct advice for handling it in the moment 3. If you come in for short term counseling with minor issues and have made it clear you are seeking advice about things rather than longer term therapy 4. Therapists seeing children will give direct advice to the parents to help set up the system which will benefit the child’s long term therapy.
There are cases in which we don’t advise. One example would be advising a client to break up with their significant other. If the significant other is abusing the client we may advise in this circumstance to get the client out of danger but in most other cases we won’t directly advise the client to break up with someone. There are many reasons for this, one being that most of the time clients don’t take direct advice. Better we ask questions to help the client come to terms with their feelings so the decision to stay or leave their SO is genuinely theirs. We want our clients to grow and make decisions more confidently and independently, and that won’t come if we are constantly throwing advice at them.
- “Do you ever wish you could be friends with your clients? Why can’t we become friends?”
This is a common question and it is a fun one! Yes, every therapist has clients in their practice they would just love to hang out and be friends with. On more than one occasion I have thought to myself “Damn- if only I could have met this client years ago before I joined this profession!” I have a lot in common with some of my clients- some have the same sense of dark humor that I do, while others love horror movies or Nintendo just like I do. That being said, as much as it would rock to hang out with one of those clients, it can’t happen. Not only would it be unethical, it would hurt the hard work done in therapy. Here’s why:
The therapeutic relationship depends on the client’s ability to disclose any and all things buried in their history or in the forefront of their minds. A client struggling with something serious such as past sexual abuse needs a safe and confidential place to work through the issue. Often when a person discloses something such as sexual abuse to their friend the friend is sympathetic. However some friends may become awkward and unable to handle the information and this will strain the friendship. A therapist is trained to handle such information with compassion and care, and the client can rest assured their confidentiality will be kept.
Confidentiality is often the biggest ethical factor in therapy. If a therapist runs into a client in public, the therapist won’t acknowledge or address the client unless the client has addressed the therapist first. You may not want your boss, friends or family knowing you are in therapy so we are trained not to approach you unless you approach first. If a therapist and client were friends the therapist would never be able to contribute much in conversation with the client’s peers present for fear of violating confidentiality. Also, the client may potentially alter their behavior with their friends and family while around the therapist due to fear of being judged by the therapist.
If the therapist got to know the client as a friend it would create a bias on both sides: the therapist is going to see behaviors in the client they were unaware of and question the direction they took with the client in therapy. The client would end up learning things about the therapist that may change their entire view of the past relationship and this could undo the hard work in the prior therapeutic relationship. These are just examples of why your therapist cannot be your friend.
Therapy is work. While it can be fun and sessions enjoyable, the therapist is there to help guide you as you learn more about yourself. At times the therapist may need to confront you directly and challenge your thinking and ideas. Sometimes these challenges and confrontations hurt and are painful, but they are small seeds that can provide huge growth as you wrestle with them. This type of work cannot be done in the context of a friendship with the therapist.
One final reason is the inability of a client to return to the same therapist if a friendship has developed. If you are like me and it took several therapists before I found a good match, it would be harmful if I needed to return to my therapist but couldn’t because we crossed that boundary. I would have to start over from square one with a stranger.
The therapeutic relationship, while not a friendship, can provide strength for a client and even benefit the therapist. It is a working relationship that while boundaried, can be treasured by both the client and the therapist. By understanding the nature of the therapeutic relationship and respecting its boundaries, therapy can help you grow in a capacity you never thought possible.
In Part I of The Therapeutic Relationship, we answered common questions about subjects such as boundaries, determining if a therapist and client are a good fit, and whether or not there are off-limit topics in the therapy session. Now, in Part II we are going to look at the client’s role in therapy. Look out y’all- this is gonna’ be blunt.
I have heard people say that the work done in therapy is half therapist, half client. I have heard others say that the client should be doing 80 percent of the work and the therapist 20. I agree with the 80/20 view: The client should be doing the majority of the work. The tasks of the therapist include:
1.Providing a clean, safe and comfortable space with which to conduct sessions.
2. Listening intently to the client’s issues, asking questions to clarify information as needed.
3. Being mindful to what the music is behind the lyrics- what is at the root of the issue?
4. Getting to know the client to determine how to best meet their needs.
5. Offering whatever services we have been trained to depending on client need (i.e. CBT, DBT, Person-Centered Therapy, EMDR, Hypnosis).
6. Being ethical with the client- if the therapist is not trained in the issues the client needs help with (such as something specialized like Schizophrenia) the therapist refers the client to a therapist trained in such things.
7. In some cases a therapist may meet for Walk and Talk sessions or in public places for various reasons.
8. Conferring with colleagues (NEVER using client’s names or other identifiers) to get other perspectives on what might best help a client.
9. Continuously educating ourselves.
10. Some therapists encourage clients to reach out when depression or anxiety becomes severe (some therapists discourage contact between sessions to maintain boundaries).
11. Some therapists will check on certain clients between sessions if they are in crisis. The above description barely scratches the surface of what entails the therapist’s role. What about the client? Perhaps you are reading this because you have been frustrated with therapy and are wondering why you aren’t getting better. Perhaps you just dig these groovy blog posts. Either way, read on- it’s about to get real.
Know what you’re getting into. Let’s liken entering therapy to taking on the responsibility of a new pet. You are making a commitment that is going to take effort, time, nurturing, work, and money. It is going to be frustrating and fun and sometimes you will have to clean up some shit. And much like having owned that pet, when you graduate from therapy-despite the pain, hard work and strain on the wallet- you know that you wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Therapy is often a slow, expensive process. This isn’t Staples and there is no ‘EASY’ button. But-if you come ready to work- it may prove to be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself.
Communicate your needs to the therapist. Some clients want a therapist who discloses (shares things) things about themselves and is more conversational. Some want to know as little as possible about their therapist. Some days the client may need to sit in silence and simply be in the present moment with their therapist. Every client is different and every session is different. If you’re frustrated with something your therapist is or isn’t doing, tell them. Your therapist will work with you as much as possible to resolve the issue, but they need to be made aware that there is an issue. We don’t bite- I promise!
Show up to sessions. If you can’t make it or don’t plan on showing, at least text, email or call. Put yourself in your therapist’s shoes: imagine waking up at 6:30 a.m., getting dressed and sitting in rush hour to get to the office and make sure it is ready for your first client at 9 a.m. 9 a.m. comes and goes and they don’t show. Now imagine your next client isn’t until noon. This happens to every therapist. Not only is it frustrating (we could have slept in, enjoyed time with family, watched Stranger Things, had coffee, given another client that time slot), but it can be damaging to the therapeutic relationship. Here’s an example from my time interning: I had a client who came to see me due to issues in relationships (friends and romantic). I was really surprised to hear that- after all- they were friendly, intelligent, pretty, outgoing and upbeat. It became clear over time: they no-showed on our second session. On our third session they showed up twenty minutes late, and checked their phone the entire time. On our fourth session they showed up thirty minutes late and even took calls from their boyfriend. At the end of that session they said they didn’t want to come to therapy anymore because their relationship wasn’t improving. If their behavior was indicative of the way they treated others it’s no wonder their relationships were failing! Show up to therapy. It helps build a positive relationship with your therapist.
Pay on time. If you pay by card, please keep it current and update the information with your therapist as needed. This is another loaded topic and it can get uncomfortable for both therapist and client. The policies regarding payment are made clear by most therapists at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship. At Ann Arbor Psychiatry copays and payments are usually taken the morning of session and the cancellation policy is pretty strict. It may seem cold but it’s better than the therapist having to ask for payment at the end of session. Here’s why: consider a client (we shall call her Rose). Rose comes in for issues regarding having survived a massive sinking ship. As session goes on it’s revealed that Rose is really suffering from guilt. She had fallen in love with a young man, Jack, who taught her to live and love and helped her survive the ship’s plummet into the water. Rose and Jack had found a door floating in the ocean, and Rose realizes that although they could have both fit onto the door- only she took the door, leaving Jack in the water, doomed. He held her hand as he froze to death. Rose discloses that she is traumatized by her last few moments with Jack- vigorously prying his corpse off her while telling him she’ll “never let go” and flinging him into the icy water. As Rose is sobbing uncontrollably her therapist notices that time’s up and says “that’ll be 90 dollars please.”
Ok, so a good therapist will be more tactful than that. As a therapist, I do what I do because I love it and care about people. The charge for sessions allows me to help people but also pay my rent, car, and buy groceries. As a client you are paying for self-care and a relationship that will challenge you and foster growth in a way that a friendship won’t. We aren’t and do not work for Tony Soprano- we don’t want to repeatedly call or text you for payment.
Do the things. Embrace the cheese. If you experience severe anxiety, your therapist may encourage you to practice breathing exercises or do daily meditation. They may ask you to keep a journal detailing when anxiety hits and at what time in the day it occurs most. If you experience depression your therapist may suggest hypnosis, daily walks, or taking up a new hobby. All too often clients come back week after week, still feeling the same, but haven’t tried any of the suggestions. I encourage you to embrace the suggestions, no matter how cheesy they seem. We understand depression is hard. We know anxiety is frustrating and debilitating at times. We know living with ADHD is frustrating. And we are happy to sit with you week after week and be your sounding board but you must take steps to facilitate your growth and healing. We care and want you to succeed, so do the things. Embrace the cheese.
Stay tuned to Part III in the Therapeutic Relationship: Deepening the relationship
Part I explored common client questions about the therapeutic relationship and reasons for various boundaries. Part II looked at the client’s responsibility in the therapeutic relationship. In this next part we will briefly discuss the deepening of the therapeutic relationship as well as the termination process.
It is said that no two snowflakes are alike. The same goes for EVERY therapeutic relationship. Each relationship has its own dynamic and deepens at its own rate for varied reasons. I believe the biggest factors that foster growth are the client’s trust in the therapist and the therapist’s continued unconditional positive regard.
There are levels of trust. You may be saying “Hey- I completely trust my therapist! I tell them everything!” That could be true. But there are levels. Has your therapist ever made an insight or asked you about something that you felt embarrassed by or caused you to want to side-step the question? Perhaps they got a little too close to something and without even realizing it you put your defenses up. It happens to most people at some point in therapy, no matter how much they trust the therapist. A good therapist will poke and prod a little bit to try and bring your issue to light but will back off if it is too distressing for you and you are absolutely not ready. Rest assured your therapist’s feelings will not be hurt by this: we know and understand that disclosing hurtful and embarrassing information about ourselves is extremely difficult and we will be there for you when you’re ready.
When you have reached a point where you have absolute trust that your therapist does not judge you negatively and that you can disclose the really tough stuff to them the relationship will deepen and you, the client, will have unstoppable potential. Think of your therapist as a roller coaster platform: a safe and sturdy base with which you can go on a frightening, fun and rewarding journey full of heights and drops and twists, embracing your fears, knowing that there is a safe base you will return to. If you are like me, climbing to the top of the ride to step onto it, chickening out and going down the exit stairs- that’s ok also. The platform (your therapist) will be there, unconditionally and without judgment when you’re ready.
Termination: This is an emotionally charged subject both for the client and the therapist. Ideally, termination occurs after the client has resolved the issues they originally came in for. Some clients stay in therapy for years to work on general growth and self- actualization and not for specific issues, although specific issues will arise during the course of therapy.
The weeks leading up to termination can be difficult for both the client and the therapist. The client has spent an amount of time confiding and building trust in this other human, and the therapist has spent that time both caring for the client and getting to know them perhaps more intimately than even some of their own family or friends. Therapists do have clients and yes there are sometimes favorites, and it is difficult when they terminate. That being said- it is also a very positive and heart-warming experience for the therapist. Your therapist has watched you grow, embrace your fears and become a better human. We love releasing our clients back into the wild, but we do shed tears as we do it!
Termination does not always mean an absolute break in the relationship. Often a client will return in a few months to check in or have a “tune-up” to make sure everything is still going well. If needed- the client can return to therapy. I cannot speak for every therapist out there but as far as the ones I know, they gladly welcome a client back for tune-ups or needed continuing care.
The final termination session should be a positive one. Of course these sessions differ for other therapists and clients, but generally the therapist will review the relationship with the clients. They will discuss the issues that brought them into therapy and the tools the client learned to navigate those issues successfully. They may discuss frustrations and funny things that happened and reminisce about the time spent together. Many therapists will end with a hug or a handshake.
Enjoy the dance. Embrace the weird. Do the things. Try the cheese.
(Note- The blog author refers to Zen Buddhism but in a therapeutic context)
Have you ever met a Buddhist? A calm, friendly, mindful, compassionate human who seems to take his or her time slowly and mindfully? Have you ever seen someone caress a cup of coffee and sip it so tenderly such as it may be the best beverage they’ve ever had? How did they seem to you? Content? Peaceful? On the flipside, have you ever seen a social media junkie? One who, while enjoying a dinner with friends cannot stop themselves from picking up their phone and checking Facebook every two minutes? How do they seem to you? Most likely they seem discontent, as evidenced by the fact that even with company surrounding them it’s just not enough. The social media junkie cannot go two minutes without checking Facebook to see someone’s food porn posting or who’s kid finally used the potty.
I tried putting Facebook away for about a month and my overall contentment improved. Why is this? I have a theory.
Before I begin, please note that this post is not an effort to convert anybody to Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist theologian or philosopher, but I believe Buddha sums up the issue quite well. The First Noble Truth of Buddhism is Suffering. Okay- duh. We suffer. We all suffer.
The Second Noble Truth is about the origin of suffering, and to put it plainly- the root cause of the suffering is craving. We are covetous people. Ok, for those weirded out by the Buddhism references and for those who fear I might have lost my edge, I will quote Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs: “And how do we begin to covet? We begin by coveting what we see every day.” And for those of us who can’t put away social media, we are coveting, possibly, hundreds of times a day.
Whether we realize it or not, social media such as Facebook causes us to compare and crave. Think about it. Scrolling through the newsfeed you see that some distant acquaintance just got a new two story home in West Bloomfield. You click to ‘like’ their picture and then find yourself comparing their home to the tiny (meth-lab central) apartment complex you live in. You may have loved your apartment, but in that moment you see your living space as a crap-hole. You put the phone down and hear a little ding and see that little red notification next to the FB icon, so you pull up FB again to check the notification. Huh, your friend Matt just got a hot new girlfriend, and they look great together. You become sad because you don’t think you could ever get such a hottie. And they look so happy together. You and your last partner fought all the time. You think “if only I could be as happy as that couple.” Perhaps you are struggling with infertility. You scroll down your FB page only to see multiple pregnancy announcements and pictures of people’s kids having fun at the cider mill. This one hurts. A lot. And yet, you continue to scroll.
We crave. We covet. We are unhappy with our lives because we are so caught up in everyone else’s damn bliss. We are ignoring the moments we are living in. We ignore our family at thanksgiving while looking at pictures of someone’s uncle twice-removed enjoying a turkey leg. And we are depressed. We hurt and wonder why. We are not living in the moment, folks. But there is hope.
There are two more Noble Truths in Buddhism.
The Third Noble Truth is the “cessation of creating suffering by refraining from doing the things that make us suffer” (Hahn). The Fourth Noble Truth is “the path that leads to refraining from doing the things that cause us to suffer” (Hahn). We are suffering because we crave all that we cannot have. We covet what we see, and because of our addiction to social media we are seeing things we cannot have hundreds and possibly thousands of times a day. We need to take a break. We need to put the phones down and enjoy what we have. We have this moment, and we will never have this moment again. It already passed us by.
For those that wish to research Zen Buddhism, it offers a path to combat all of this. However, this is a therapeutic blog post (and the I am Jewish) so I would like to share one facet of the Eightfold path. It is the Right Mindfulness that I want to bring to your attention.
Try this. Find a comfortable place to sit. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and breathe out through your nose. Do this for as long as possible. Try to stay focused on your breathing. If you have ADHD with Hyperactive symptoms you can modify your position or stand, as long as you are comfortable. If a thought crosses your mind, don’t get mad at yourself- just compassionately acknowledge the thought and bring your focus back to your breath. Open your eyes. Pat yourself on the back. Congratulations- you just meditated!
Do this daily. You will notice you are calmer, more content, more patient with others and kinder toward yourself. Be mindful. Take time to feel a breeze on your cheek. Pay attention next time you wash your hands. Have you ever noticed all the different sensations the water brings to your hands? Watch the drops, where they fall. Appreciate the small things. If you cannot appreciate small things then you will never appreciate the big things in your life.
One more thing. In the Zen Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh people take what is called the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The fifth training speaks on Nourishment and Healing. We are advised to be mindful of our consumption. Ask yourself, what are you consuming? How many hours a day do you spend consuming Instagram, Facebook or TV? Now ask yourself- what do you really gain from all that consumption? I challenge you to an experiment: Stay off of Facebook for one week. That’s seven days. Meditate twice daily for those seven days. Take an inventory of how you are feeling after the seven days have passed. You will most likely notice that you are less depressed and carry less anxiety. Hopefully you will be more aware of the goodness in your life and all the wonderful people in it. Challenge yourself to a social media fast, or even a Television fast (you choose the terms).
Limit your media consumption. It will help eliminate your depression and anxiety and hopefully get you back on track to a fulfilling life.
*Quotations used are from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh
The practice of mindfulness and meditation are beneficial for stress reduction, helping to decrease depression and learning to treat yourself and others more compassionately. While there have been multiple studies on the benefits of meditation and mindful practice, I want to speak to my personal experience and offer a few guidelines to get you started.
I am terrified of bees, wasps and hornets. Actually, if it has a stinger I probably don’t like it. Remember that detail – it will mean something in a few minutes. Several years ago, a good friend who is also an MD introduced me to mindfulness and meditation. They both go hand in hand – meditation is often done sitting or walking while focusing on the breath, while mindfulness is bringing yourself into a non-judgmental awareness of the present. I was instructed to find a busy object such as a quilt or something with a pattern and just look deep into it. He asked me to look at it for what it was without judgment- How many colors? How many more colors? How many textures? Did I notice other details about the object? I started to do that anytime I was experiencing anxiety or depression. I did not fully realize the benefits of it until I tried it one summer at the zoo.
The Story of the Things with the Stingers:
It was my 30th birthday and my friends and their kids took me to the zoo (why they picked an outdoor activity for my birthday is beyond me, but I do love me some reptile house and the penguin stinkquarium). At lunchtime we found ourselves a couple of picnic tables and I was enlisted to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids. Seriously y’all – the amount of bees and wasps swarming the moment I opened the jelly jar was EPIC. I mean Alfred Hitchcock could have made millions off the story. I considered ditching my friends and spending my 30th in an air-conditioned bookstore or coffee shop. However, they were my ride and I wasn’t going down for auto-theft. Without any options left I remembered the mindfulness techniques I had learned and figured I’d see if it worked in a Stinger-Pocalypse. I stepped away from the picnic tables for a moment to get away from the buzzing, sharp-butted feeding frenzy of wasps, bees, and hornets and breathe. Breathing in, I reminded myself of the following things:
1. The insects were interested in the food, not me. 2. If I moved slowly and unthreateningly, I most likely would not be stung. 3. If they swarmed and I slowly set the utensils down they would swarm that instead of me.
I stepped back over, and began breathing in through my nose and out through my nose. Slowly I walked back over to the jars. I picked up a new knife and put the peanut butter on the bread. I then picked up a new spoon and very carefully inserted it into the jelly jar. My hand was swarmed, but I kept breathing. I could feel the tickle of wasps and bees landing on me, but I kept breathing. Slowly I removed the spoon and carefully dropped the jelly on the sandwich and set the spoon down. I kept breathing while I repeated the process with two more sandwiches. After the last sandwich I carefully set the utensils down at a different table to divert some of the insects and carefully closed the jars. I then stepped away from the tables to breathe. It was then that I began shaking slightly as I processed what had just occurred, but I was proud of myself. So were my friends.
This practice has helped me in other ways. We live in a world where we constantly need to be gratified, to the point where we get angry and anxious when something takes longer than seconds to load on our phones. We are constantly moving, and I see more and more people who do not know how to be in the present moment. I have seen people miss key points of concerts while fumbling with their phones to get the perfect pic or ten second vid of the singer. And many of us find ourselves restless and unable to sleep. I have tried to counteract that through meditation and mindful practice and I have found it has helped me to face fears, work through depression and anxiety, and treat myself and others with compassion. I would like to share some methods of practice with you. Please enjoy.
Sitting Meditation: Thich Nhat Hanh in Chanting From the Heart says “sitting meditation is a way of returning home to give full attention and care to ourselves.” At the Plum Village monastery they practice sitting meditation often. It is recommended to sit in a position comfortable to you, whether it be on the floor, a cushion or in a chair. Sometimes I lay down on the floor with a pillow under by knees. If possible, breathe in through the nostrils, noticing the feeling of the air as it enters and the sensation of the air expanding the abdomen. Upon exhaling notice your abdomen returning to its original position. If you find your mind wandering, bring your awareness back to the breath. If you are like me and you have a BA in music and constantly get some song stuck in your head, keep breathing and let the song play. But your goal in any case is simply to enjoy sitting.
Walking Meditation: I particularly love walking meditation. It can be done indoors or outdoors and is great for ADHD when sitting is too difficult. Thich Nhat Hahn says “Walking meditation indoors or outdoors is a very precious practice. Walking meditation means that we know we are walking. We walk just for walking, no longer in a hurry.” This practice begins with breathing, while walking in a slow, meaningful way with your head upright and a light smile on the lips. As you take one step, breathe in, and on the other breathe out. I like to visualize drawing my breathe from the ground with one step and sending the air back to the ground with the next step. While outdoors, it is good to take notice of the sounds and stop to appreciate the sounds, sights and smells around you. Some people carry a bag to pick up trash as they go to add a compassionate element to their walk and contribute to the environment.
My two favorite discoveries:
- Mindfulness in the Shower (not getting saucy here, I promise) – stand in the shower with your chest or back facing the downflow of water. Start with warm, hot or cold water and close your eyes. Notice the water. If you are using warm or hot water, notice where on your body the water touches it and where on your body it feels cold because of the lack of water. Notice the feel of water as it hits your skin and see if you can mindfully isolate feeling individual drops on various parts of your skin. What else do you notice? The first time I practiced mindfulness in the shower I was delighted to notice (for the first time ever) the tiniest of drops splash against my face. Sure, I had probably felt it thousands of times in my life, but this was the first time I actually noticed it. This can be practiced while washing hands or dishes as well.
- Music Appreciation. Having a BA in music has helped me cultivate my own fun activities in mindfulness. One of the activities is music listening and appreciation. Start with a standard famous work like Beethoven’s Ninth or a Mozart symphony. Grab a pen and paper to take notes from time to time. Start with the instruments- how many instruments can you identify? Even if you cannot identify them by name take a mental note of their sound and any detail that comes to mind. Ask yourself what kinds of emotions or feelings are evoked by the music. Maybe it tells a story. Maybe it reminds you of a time in your life. Does it make you want to move, dance, laugh, cry? Does it make you feel sad or dark? Don’t judge these feelings or thoughts as good or bad, just note them without judgment.
These practices can be done almost anywhere at any time. When I used to be in the restaurant service I would take a moment after the lunch or dinner rush to use the restroom. It was then I would spend a couple of minutes breathing deeply (not the most nostril-friendly place to breathe deeply through the nose, but it was better than nothing if it helps one’s mental health) and it would help me mentally prepare for all the prep and cleaning to be done. I urge you to take a look around your home and spot objects that could help you in your practice. The same goes for the office, church, and any other places you frequent. Look around at your surroundings. Not only will you find things to contribute to your mindfulness/meditation practice, but you may be delighted by the discovery of things you never realized were there.
I will leave you with a common phrase often used by people who practice meditation and mindfulness: “Don’t just do something, sit there!”