Today's mental highlight comes from Principle #4 in my 5 Handy Principles for the Every Day Warrior.
"Mindfulness of the Present is Your Compass to the Future".
Being Mindful is defined as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. When we are mindful we are able to place a little daylight between stimulus and response so that when we are aroused to "danger", i.e. stress, we are able to "press pause" and think before doing.
In the practice of Mental Health we instill the value of mindfulness, particularly in developing skills to manage anger and the very powerful emotions and physical sensations that drive maladaptive use of alcohol/other drugs, gambling, spending, eating, cutting, or sex. Relapse often falls on the heels of giving in to signs of physical distress which, with practice, can be rerouted through solid mindfulness.
We instill mindfulness practices in managing the effects of Trauma and in working through therapist burnout.
Mindfulness can and has been a life saver.
The story of my husband's experience as a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam drives home the value of having a solid foundation in being able to resist the lure of the distorted physical forces of Vertigo, and to trust the honesty of his environment, the instrument panel of his UH-1 "Huey" aircraft. During a difficult and all too common gruesome mission, and shortly after taking off from his Landing Zone, my husband and his copilot found themselves in the middle of a thick cloud cover with absolutely no reference to the horizon, ground, or terrain.
The term for this situation is Inadvertent IFR. IFR stands for "Instrument Flight Rules" and what it means is that when you are flying in thick clouds you must totally and solely rely on your instruments in order to maintain straight and level flight. This, in spite of your mind yelling and screaming at you that your senses are wrong.
"I had to trust my gauges. I felt like we were banking left but the turn and slip indicator revealed we were banking slightly right! Double damn, I had vertigo and had to fight the urge to correct in the direction I felt we were going. The gauges, go by the gauges. Hard to do when all your instincts tell you the opposite."
Relying on his flight school instrument training, and disregarding the overwhelming demands of his body, my husband navigated the aircraft through the clouds for what seemed like hours, ultimately breaking out and flying back to Camp Eagle in full visual contact with their external environment.
I use this story as an example of how mindfulness works. It's the perfect metaphor to illustrate how when we become disoriented by our emotions, internal messages, and physical sensations, we often overcompensate and act on unreliable information. We fall prey to false readings of the environment, and we seek refuge in self-defeating behaviors.
When we practice mindfulness we resist the lure and promise of safety in compulsive choices. We learn to believe our gauges.
Note: Louise is a 5 and a half year Army Veteran of the Vietnam Era during which time she taught Instrument Navigation in the Army Flight School at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. She was also an Air Traffic Controller and worked at major airfields at Ft. Rucker and Wheeler Field, Hawaii.