Tak­ing the first step

GA Voice - - New Year's Resolutions -

I am, se­ri­ously, writ­ing this on New Year’s Day at the Ans­ley Star­bucks. My gym bag is at my feet. I’m revving up with a triple-shot mac­chi­ato be­fore head­ing to the gym to trans­form my­self into the god­like crea­ture that ev­ery gay man de­sires with ev­ery inch of his pe­nis. But first I need to eat the 420-calo­rie cin­na­mon-crunch bagel I swore I wouldn’t buy. But, hey, I de­serve it. I ate a salad for lunch.

So go most New Year’s res­o­lu­tions. Is there a rem­edy? Yes, definitely, and it should it­self be ev­ery­one’s first res­o­lu­tion. Is it easy? Hell no, but it is im­mensely re­ward­ing. It’s “mind­ful­ness.” This prac­tice, as old as Bud­dhism, is the rea­son I re­turned to school to get mas­ter’s and doc­toral de­grees in psy­chol­ogy. Learn­ing mind­ful­ness was among the most life-chang­ing things I’d ever done for my­self, and I wanted to share it with clients. Back then, it was con­sid­ered woo-woo and New Agey, but it’s be­come in­te­gral in al­most all forms of psy­chother­apy and coach­ing.

In the­ory, it’s very sim­ple. You learn to bring non­judg­men­tal at­ten­tion to your thoughts, in­stead of try­ing to in­stantly ban­ish or hold onto them. Then, they soon float away on their own. You don’t have to act on them. This is para­dox­i­cal, but we all know that the more we fight temp­ta­tion, the stronger it be­comes. Mind­ful­ness sab­o­tages that.

This prac­tice is es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult for many Amer­i­cans. In Bud­dhist thought, de­sire is the root of all suf­fer­ing. We live in a time when ex­actly the op­po­site is be­lieved. Con­sumerism is our re­li­gion. We feel that the more we ac­quire, the bet­ter we are. Step­ping away from that is lit­er­ally in­con­sis­tent with the cap­i­tal­ist delu­sion that we can all have ev­ery­thing.

Now, many peo­ple al­ready have the ex­pe­ri­ence of mind­ful­ness in cer­tain ar­eas of their lives. Con­sider the gym. Health and

Jan­uary 8, 2016

ap­pear­ance prob­a­bly most mo­ti­vate the res­o­lu­tion to join one, but I be­lieve mind­ful­ness keeps peo­ple com­ing back, whether they re­al­ize it or not. When you are lifting a weight or run­ning, your at­ten­tion is on that very mo­ment. We en­ter a time­less, plea­sur­able state called “the zone” or “flow.” As study af­ter study has shown, ex­er­cise is sig­nif­i­cantly more ef­fec­tive at re­duc­ing de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety than phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. And mind­ful­ness is one rea­son why.

En­cour­ag­ing clients to be­gin a chal­leng­ing pro­gram of ex­er­cise is al­most al­ways my first ad­vice. I’m well aware that de­pres­sion makes tak­ing that step very dif­fi­cult. I’ve even taken a few clients to the gym so we can talk about their feel­ings and thoughts as they work out. But the truth is that the client must sum­mon the mo­ti­va­tion to take this step, be­ing aware that it is nat­u­ral to re­sist the change—like my (not) giv­ing up pas­try.

The most direct way of learn­ing mind­ful­ness is to learn med­i­ta­tion. That was my ex­pe­ri­ence when I en­rolled in classes at the Shamb­hala Med­i­ta­tion Cen­ter (at­lanta. shamb­hala.org). It’s not a cult, be­lieve me, and you can par­tic­i­pate at any level you want. It’s just help­ful to have other peo­ple around when you’re learn­ing the prac­tice. If

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