In the last blog post I presented the Check-In. The Check-In exercise is an expedient way for you to facilitate self-awareness and mindfulness, which is critical to healing. Self-awareness and mindfulness together deepen our insight into the way your thoughts, feelings, sensations, urges, impulses, needs, wants, heart, and body are functioning together as the integrated organism you are. Deepening your insight into yourself—your mind, your heart, your body, and your relationships—leads to understanding how your ANS works, which is what you want to do when you’re trying to heal from a functional medical problem.
A functional medical problem is a real physical problem, syndrome, or illness that does not have a clear-cut medical cause and therefore does not have a sure-fire cure. The classic functional medical problem is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS. Inexplicable chronic pain, chronic migraines, and a host of other diagnoses are functional medical problems or have functional aspects, or flare-ups. Functional medical problems are typically tied up with your autonomic nervous system.
The point of the Check-In exercise is to learn how to observe and describe as many aspects of your present-moment experience as possible by pausing throughout your day and connecting with yourself on a lot of different levels. The Check-in is a great tool and my favorite mindfulness exercise because it quickly, over the course of a week, highlights our natural tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots.
Everyone is naturally better at accessing and connecting with certain parts of themselves and not as well with others. There are parts of our experience we favor or prefer to engage with, and parts we may be ignoring or not really paying much attention to. There is nothing inherently bad or wrong with favoring some parts over others; it is what we naturally do because we are not wired to pay attention to multiple things at the exact same time.
Multitasking is a misconception; multitasking is really the quick flip-flopping of our attention between two or more things rather than our attention being on two things at the exact same moment. Multitasking teaches your nervous system how to be more stimulated and to speed up. If your nervous system is constantly fairly stimulated and/or sped up, then one of the things you’ll need to work on over time is helping your nervous system to learn how to slow down and operate with less stimulation.
Slowing down, tuning into yourself, doing the Check-In exercise, or sitting in mindfulness meditation are behaviors that when repeated many times over a period of time lead you toward a habit of connecting more deeply and to more parts of yourself as well as connecting more deeply with others. Developing this kind of habit is critical to your healing because it teaches you how to connect with yourself and others while teaching you how to focus and concentrate on one thing in your awareness at a time and how to be mindful, compassionate, non-judgmental, patient, accepting, present, and gentle. These habits and skills lead to the kind of insight that promotes healing.
Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that you need to be mindful twenty-four-seven in order to heal. I’m simply saying that by bringing a mindful state of awareness more often into your day-to-day life in the specific ways that represent a meaningful shift for you towards increasing self-awareness, you will stimulate healing.
Remember that fundamentally healing happens by doing something different. Not just anything. The right something different. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what that right is for you. That is something you will need to discover for yourself. And there most likely won’t be exactly one right something different but many right something differents, each one bringing you further down the path of healing toward a full recovery.
Tuning into a part of yourself that you don’t normally hear or receive information from represents doing something different. In terms of shifting ANS patterns, it’s essential because one of the overarching objectives for healing is to bring consciousness to what is currently more unconscious. Connecting with parts of yourself that you typically ignore or don’t recognize as offering you valid information makes you more conscious of information that would otherwise be more unconscious.
Let’s now get back to discussing the Check-In exercise. The Check-In exercise quickly demonstrates your strengths and weaknesses across a set of skills. Those skills include slowing down, paying attention, tuning into various parts of yourself, non-judgmentally observing your inner experience, and describing in words what that experience is.
I want to say a little something about the importance of developing the skill of description, or being able to describe in words what you notice happening within yourself. Not everything we experience is something we can put into words. Some things are just ineffable. Most of the time, however, we have words we can put to what we notice about our present moment experience, and it’s important to take this step. Why? Because it actually generates a little release in the nervous system, leading to greater ease in the body.
If you answered the self-reflection questions and kept a journal while doing the weeklong exercise, now would be a good time to pull out that material and review it as you answer the following questions:
- When you practiced the Check-In exercise hourly for a day, did you find it easy or difficult to slow down and pay attention to yourself using mindfulness?
- How easy or difficult was it to pay attention to your emotions, thoughts, sensations, and relationships, respectively, in the moment?
- Which part of yourself were easiest to access?
- Which parts felt most challenging to access?
- How easy or difficult was it to describe in words what you were observing about your inner experience?
Your answers to the above questions and the questions for self-reflection you may have answered while doing the Check-In exercise indicate your strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. Your mission should you choose to accept it is to give thought to which skills AND which parts of yourself need more attention either because they are new to you or seem underdeveloped, especially compared to other parts and skills. We will talk next time about how to use this information to make the specific shifts most meaningful to you so that you can take some further baby steps towards healing.