In my mind mindfulness has two main ingredients the practice of becoming more present in our day to day lives. So we do this through using anchors like breath and sound to bring us in to contact with the here and now. The point of an anchor is to give our minds something to focus on. Most of the time our minds are buzzing around like excited puppies, jumping from topic to topic so using an anchor supports our attention to rest a little in one place. This resting allows you to get a better sense of how you are feeling in this moment. It may be you recognize different emotions that are around, or physical experiences in the body. It may be this being more present allows you to feel a natural arising of joy, appreciation or surprise at something you notice in your environment.
The partner to mindfulness and the other key ingredient is the quality of kindness. So, once we notice what is here we learn how to bring kindness to this experience. So with greater presence in the moment we can notice many things, as much as we may experience joy and gratitude for our present moment, we can also begin to notice an underlying unrest, low level anxiety or dissatisfaction. These emotions can be difficult to experience, we as humans can often have a sense that if we are feeling something difficult or ‘negative’ that there must be something going wrong in our lives. It is then not a huge jump for us to feel this is because we have done something wrong in our lives, we have made a mistake, an incorrect decision, we are not good enough in some way. So we can at this point turn against ourselves with criticism.
Another way to respond may be rather than to criticize ourselves to be kind to ourselves. We can practice acknowledging things are tough and responding as a good friend would. Dr. Kristin Neff a leading researcher on self-compassion (www.self-compassion.org) explores this in depth. So how does this relate to the title of the post? Loneliness and mindfulness.
As you heard, one finding from this study is that when people feel lonely, they often attach a sense of shame to this loneliness. This sense that if we feel lonely there must be something wrong with us. So instead – kindness – can we instead give ourselves care and support. Through perhaps doing something nice for ourselves, a bath, call a friend, go for a walk in nature. So an action of care through hearing our need to feel nurtured. A suggestion I would also make is that often shame comes from a sense that we need to hide something, and perhaps if we are hiding something we also feel that we are the only one with this feeling.
Acknowledging when we experience loneliness that millions of others in that very moment will also be experience similar feelings can help us remember loneliness is a very normal human emotion and we are not in fact alone at all but in that moment we can mindfully connect with all those others across the world who maybe experiencing loneliness or other difficult emotions like fear or isolation. Perhaps this visual reflection can help us feel more connected.
One other point identified in this research was the finding that people found it helpful just to talk to anyone and find something good in everyone they meet. Immediately we can reduce feelings of loneliness, even if we talk to the person at the bus stop, smile at someone who walks past us in the street, chat to someone after yoga. Loneliness is a sense of disconnection so often all we need to do is connect, it does not always need to be on a very deep level but just that experience of two humans sharing a moment. Who knows perhaps the person you reach out too, or smile at, is perhaps also in need of connection. Being able to see something positive in everyone we meet is a very valuable practice. It is a very human habit to judge and see difference between us and others, this judgment creates a sense of separateness. So by simply looking for something positive in those around us we can benefit hugely. Focusing on the positive in another stimulates areas of the brain that can lead to stimulation of chemicals in the brain that relate to feelings of connectednes
So the practice of mindfulness, kindness and self-compassion are wonderful ways to respond to feelings of loneliness. Notice what is there and respond with care.