Several years ago, a patient noticed a fragrance coming from the pink jasmine blooming in front of my office. She said it made her feel sad that they would eventually fade, dry up and fall to the ground. Her thoughts about what they would look like in the future stopped her from being able to enjoy the fragrant beauty they were offering in the present moment. Has something like this ever happened to you? Where you find yourself thinking about what hasn’t even taken place yet? Or maybe you got lost thinking about something that happened in the past? A very wise person once said to me, “Bonnie, if you’ve got one foot in the past and one in the future, you’re pissin’ on the present.” How right he was, there is no way that we could enjoy what is happening right now in the present moment when our minds are somewhere else. We’ve all had that experience of arriving at a destination and not remembering how we got there. Or, rereading a paragraph over and over again because it didn’t sink in the first time. Jon Kabbat-Zinn likes to say, “Next time you’re in the shower, check and make sure you’re in the shower.” This experience is not only detrimental to being able to feel and enjoy life, but it can cause you to miss being present to take your moments in your work as actors. Good acting requires reacting, and you have to have all five senses available to breathe life into your character as you make those words on the paper come to life.
Part of the problem that you may be experiencing is not being able to stay focused on the present moment. Difficulty focusing on the present moment seems to be an epidemic. Our minds are inundated with continual information every minute of the day. Information spilling out of the television, radio, internet, telephone, and billboards all scream for our attention. It is difficult to get through a task, maybe even reading this article, without checking emails, text messages or missed calls. Now add to that mix the fact that we think approximately 10,000 thoughts a day and you’ve got some serious stimulus overload going on. All of these intrusions make it difficult to focus on what is before us in the present moment. This environment not only robs you of enjoying your life but it also creates stress. It costs us big time and the price we’re paying to these time thieves is our peace of mind. Let’s take a look at the mental health temperature of Americans. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety affects approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44. 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population suffer from depression. Can all of this constant intrusion be a factor in the high rate of anxiety and depression in America? But hold on before you check that email, text message or voicemail because I’m coming to the jewel in this over stimulus package.
There is a quiet revolution occurring in the mental health field right now which can promote balance and well-being. You don’t need a membership, special equipment or a prescription for it. It’s called mindfulness. Being mindful or having mindful awareness means paying attention to what you’re experiencing from moment to moment – without drifting into thoughts of the past or concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions about what is going on. It is the practice of sitting still and focusing on your breathing. It goes like this, you find a quiet spot to sit down, you close your eyes or not, focus on the in -breath and the out –breath, notice where you feel the air coming into your body and how it leaves your body, and when your mind wanders and starts thinking about the laundry list of things you need to do, you gently, without judgment refocus it on the breath again. This is the way you begin to train your mind to stay in the present moment.
By focusing your attention in this way, you are also promoting brain health. Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center reveals that mindfulness training helped reduce subjective states of suffering and improve immune function, accelerate rates of healing and nurture interpersonal relationships and an overall sense of well-being. Mindfulness also improves various mental disorders with reduction in symptoms and prevention of relapse. Studies on depression (Mayberg, 2005) reveal that mindfulness techniques can alleviate symptoms of depression and lead to improvements in brain functioning. The general idea of the clinical benefit of mindfulness is that the acceptance of one’s situation can alleviate the internal battle that may emerge when expectations of how “life should be” do not match how “life is.” Check out Time magazine’s fun diagram of what the brain looks like while meditating. Studies have found that people who have completed mindfulness training and incorporate the practice of mindfulness also benefit from:
- Significant decreases in depression and anxiety
- Increased ability in creativity and concentration
- Better coping skills in adapting to change
- Calmness in the face of difficulties
- Enhanced appreciation of life
- Considerable reduction of the chances of depression reoccurring
- Improved self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-trust
There is a beautiful poem by the Chinese Zen Master, Wu-Men that encapsulates the gifts of mindfulness: “Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.”
Visit my website to download a free guide to meditation.
Good luck on your wonderful journey.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice, visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.