Polka-Dotted Elephants and the Body
Learning to work with S.T.O.P.
I work with a lot of clients that are incredibly intelligent. They’ve been arguing with themselves in their own heads and have gotten really good at running through all of the same stories and coming up with all the same analyzations that they’ve been carrying around for years. If I tell them NOT to think these same thoughts they have been thinking for years, I might as well be telling them to stop thinking about polka dotted elephants.
Unfortunately for many of us, the stories we rerun in our heads are ones filled with cognitive distortions like low self value and certainly not enough self-love or self-care. Most people brilliantly understand their own issues, and its not that we haven’t thought it all through, in fact we are experts at lambasting ourselves with negativity. The real truth, is that many of us haven’t had an original thought in the other direction in years.
As a mindfulness instructor, my job is to model and guide presence and loving kindness in a way that encourages individuals to condition a certain amount of space around these distorted narrations. One of the most effective ways to do so is to bring the conscious awareness as a daily practice over to the sensations of the body. By bringing our attention to some sensation (breath, touch, taste, smell, hearing, etc.) that is occurring now, it brings us into the now and out of the past regretting something or out of the future being worried about something that is or isn’t going to occur. Like a gear mechanism if our attention is on something in the now, then the power of conscious awareness that was feeding into a distorted story can’t be continued. The challenge is to exercise this mechanism of bringing ourselves present enough so that presence becomes not only easier and easier to do but occurs more often as well. Find something (or) find a plethora of somethings that remind you to:
Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and then Proceed choosing to respond to your day instead of react.
Choosing some aspects of present sensation to pay attention to can give you an anchor in the now to hold firm to no matter what wave is coming at us.
Scott Martin holds a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and teaches a quarterly Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class in Tyler, Texas. For more information on developing a mindfulness practice or processing emotional trauma visitwww.etsrc.org