Mindfulness for Bipolar? Ummm...Well...

My therapist gave me a book about how to live mindfully called How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays. I certainly am a wild elephant.  And true to the concept of mindfulness, it was slow reading.  Each chapter rolled out a new challenge that was to be practiced for a week.  Like brushing my teeth left handed. You really couldn’t read beyond the chapter you were on.  There were 53 chapters.

Buddhist Origins

Mindfulness has Buddhist origins.  Siddhartha (the Buddha or “Enlightened One”) taught the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life is painful. (dukkha)
  2. The origin of pain is desire. (samudaya)
  3. The way to eliminate pain is to eliminate desire. (nirodha)
  4. The way to eliminate desire is to follow the Eight-Fold Path. (magga)

         The Eight-Fold Path includes:

          Right speech

          Right conduct 

          Right livelihood 

          Right effort 

          Right mindfulness 

          Right concentration 

          Right views

          Right intentions 

The mindfulness one has a huge following in our society.  The last time I googled it, there were 233 billion results.

Living in the Moment

Mindfulness is all about living in the moment and not dwelling on the past or obsessing about the future. The cliche about stopping and smelling the flowers is essentially what mindfulness is.  Mindfulness diaries and journals promising to deliver “calmness and clarity” are widely marketed.  The 2600 year old concept has gone beyond trendy and into the mainstream of medicine and psychiatry.  It’s actually about thinking less — and that’s harder than it sounds.

The research is new.  But it seems to point to calmer, more focused students.  And mindfulness practiced among adults seems to reduce stress and anxiety.  It lowers blood pressure and heart rate.  It wards off physical pain.  It battles depression. It apparently quickens recovery from illness. 

Mindful Eating

For myself, mindfulness has allowed me to enjoy eating my food more. In fact, mindful eating is its own study, to which Dr. Jan had already devoted a book. I also enjoy listening to music more.  Even formerly tedious tasks I appreciate more.

Mindful eating is key to our health, as it assists our digestion.  When I was in Army basic training, we received excellent food, but we only had five minutes in which to eat it.  The body doesn’t realize it’s supposed to be digesting when it’s either under stress or bombarded with outside stimuli, such as excess conversation.  Further, the  anticipation, the presentation, the smelling, the mouth watering that precedes a meal assists greatly in digestion.
Why are the French in so much better shape than we are, despite consuming high amounts of fat and alcohol?  Their metabolism is better because they savor their meals.


Aw, who am I kidding?  I’m terrible at mindfulness.  Enjoying my food more?  Please.  To use a phrase my students might use, ain’t nobody got time for that.  Quite frankly, I don’t want to be mindful of the junk I eat.  It’s a horrible diet.  My hectic life as a teacher afforded me hardly any time to enjoy my food. I’m used to a precious few minutes to eat.  And the rest of my day has always been a race to get everything done.  Furthermore, I’m so hopelessly conditioned to the rush, I don’t know how to slow down even in retirement.  I still eat fast.  I read the newspaper while I eat, quickly devouring headlines and calories. I still feel like I need to be getting things accomplished.  That probably describes most of America, whether at work, on vacation, or in retirement.