A Practice of Mindfulness Doesn’t Take Time, It Makes Time!

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Posted Jan 22, 2016

Do You:

  • Find yourself having conversations that you are not really engaged in? 
  • Miss out on simple, surprising life moments — beautiful sunsets, a giggling child, a majestic flower growing in an unusual place?  
  • Unnecessarily worry about the future, which has not yet occurred, or the past, which has already happened?
  • Decline opportunities for supportive connection?
  • Listen to music or participate in other activity only to realize that you haven’t been doing that at all? 

Mindfulness” is trending. Everybody seems to want to practice it. Still, many people simply cannot imagine being able to set aside the time. Others may think they don’t know how to do it, or have the right space in their home. And what about the cost? Books, teachers, or downloads? 

In reality, the practice of mindfulness requires little more than the desire to embrace it. Mindfulness involves simple behaviors of being involved and focusing on being in the present — neither absorbed in what was nor worried about what will be. The present is absolutely the best place to be: to feel in control, to find balance, to calm anxiety or fear, and to discover or recover the resources that exist within. Mindfulness invites a clear state. Experiencing pleasure should never be taken for granted!   

Why Is Mindfulness Particularly Suited To Gay Men?

It’s not like we are the only people who can benefit from the practice, but there are some norms in our community that keep us disconnected. For one, there tends to be an emphasis on career and rising to the top at all costs. There are reasons we put ourselves under this pressure, and there is a lot of support from advertising and gay cultural norms that send the message that having stuff equals living fully, especially if there are no kids or spouse in the picture. Feeding the constant need for acquisition can take its toll though, and the price is ultimately wellbeing.

Next, our community’s emphasis on good looks and sex has many guys downloading simultaneous apps for hooking up or dating. The constant alerts, along with a continual state of excitement and arousal, which is unnerving (not to mention addictive) for most, draws men into a cycle that is not within their control.  

You can fool yourself into thinking you are in the present when in fact you have narrowed your focus to one potentially unhealthy zone while simultaneously dissociating from other healthy aspects of day-to-day life. Barely looking up from the little screen is not being mindful!

Then there are the guys of my generation and older, who grew up in an era of nonacceptance. They learned to ignore the wisdom of the body. Safer that way. The message of being gay and being outcast would be overwhelming if they were to pay attention. The best defense was not to listen! And by adulthood the capacity for not listening was so finely honed that the ability or even the desire to pay attention to inner wisdom was almost stifled. Mindfulness is the ultimate challenge for gay men — and the repair. 

So, being seen and being in the scene are emphasized in our community. Thus, we are often left with little interest in enjoying our alone time or pursuing interests that are internal and restorative. 

Just last week Tom asked me a question, which seemed difficult for him to bring up.  I was intrigued by what kind of personal question he was hinting at. “I notice you recently got an Apple watch and don’t look at it or get distracted the way I do with mine, how do you do that?”

I chuckled.  My intention in getting the watch was simply a love of new electronic products as opposed to multitasking. I had turned off all the pings and signals on the apps and use it as an old-fashioned watch!  As we spoke further about this, he described a week of vacation where getting caught up on his apps, looking to meet new guys, and receiving notifications each time somebody responded to him actually kept him from leaving the house and enjoying his surroundings. Instead, he sat indoors with his phone and watch, got carried away by possibilities and missed out on real opportunities to connect to and explore his vacation environment

We made an agreement: he would use his watch differently, listen to music for relaxation as he used to, stay away from his apps for a month, and participate in connecting with others in real-time more often. He was comforted by this plan, which was doable once he made the decision. He was pleased that this different behavior would be considered a part of mindfulness practice. His decision reflected a desire to be more present to his life.

My psychotherapy phone line rings continuously … gay men wanting to learn how to relax and how to use mindfulness. Psychotherapy may be also warranted depending on the depth or nature of a problem, but here are some simple initial steps to help you find internal harmony. You may not even need to see someone like me!

  • Put your phone down. Are you one of those guys who finds yourself looking at your phone every few moments without? You may not even realize it. Pay attention — you may be surprised and a bit embarrassed. As I dine with some of my friends, I am sometimes struck by how they pick up their phone mid-sentence and look for texts and alerts. Or perhaps they have the alerts set so each time they receive a response we are informed about it. Even if someone chooses not to look, his awareness of it has taken him away from our conversation, and my awareness of this takes me away.  Turn off your alerts! Your messages will be waiting for you and you won’t forget to check for them. Your ability to focus on what is happening right in front of you will greatly improve. And you likely will love it — being in the world again.
  • Since we live in a social media world, it is unrealistic to stop using it altogether. The digital option can keep us in connection with important others, but how would it be to use it specifically for this purpose? If your intention is to enjoy connections, have fun with your peeps by using social media in positive ways. Instead of using it to rant about politics, enjoy your friends. Become intentional about the frequency of checking your devices. Rather than operating on automatic, decide how many time a day you will log on, and do it in when you can be present to enjoying this experience instead of being on the go. Try going to an appointment and simply sitting, breathing, or looking around, rather than busying yourself by checking your phone. You can do it — and you will you have more energy and feel greater satisfaction in your daily life.
  • Do what you can do to enjoy the present. What you do depends on your interests, of course. For some, listening to music and relaxing is the remedy, whereas for others, going for a walk and enjoying nature is the key. Identify the activities that take you away from stress and that rejuvenate you (rather than siphon energy, peacefulness and joyful connection).  Do this regularly by building the activity into your schedule, rather than carving out time from a filled schedule — a part of not a part from. Even a few moments can go a long way.  The goal is to restore a sense of balance and regain a feeling of control. Remember, it is good for your emotional and physical health.
  • Okay, here’s the punchline: Perhaps use the phone to download some mindfulness apps. They will help guide you as you begin the practice of centering yourself, of mindfulness. And you can design the experience — the duration of time, the sounds, and the visual scenes to accompany it.