Participate!

One of my favorite Mindfulness skills is Participate. I think most of us, when we are first discovering the lessons in DBT, are prone to overlook this particular skill. It seems so simple, right? We think, “Of course I participate! I participate in my job, my relationships, my tasks, my activities…How can you not? If I’m doing it, then I’m participating!” There is so much more nuance there. To really participate is to be so totally involved with what you are doing that you lose your death-hold grip on those things that are so characteristic of being un-present. You lose your self-consciousness, you let the automatic thoughts take a backseat, and you engage with your whole body. We can participate in literally anything – exercising, reading, talking to a friend, having sex, watching TV, working… You know you are really participating when, once you’ve stopped, you think to yourself, “Hey, I think I just spent 10 minutes not focused on myself/my problems!”. There’s a joy to participating, even if it’s just for a single moment, because the hell of rumination is the constant judgment. It’s relentless… I should be doing something else → I’m wasting time → I should be doing the laundry → I’m so lazy → If anybody finds out who I really am, they’ll hate me, etc.

There are no prerequisites for participating. You don’t have to be in a special place, doing an awesome thing, with an amazing person, wearing a special outfit…. You can participate in the walk to the train. You can participate in the phone call you’re having (and not looking at the internet while you’re talking). You can participate in grocery shopping, brushing your teeth, cooking your dinner…

What is required is attention, focus. Sometimes it helps to start by kind of asking yourself questions about the experience. “What does it feel like in my feet to be walking? What does the air feel like against my face? What’s around me? What can I notice that I haven’t noticed before?” It seems that what most of us do is participate in exactly the moments in which we are not, thinking about the laundry while you’re in the meeting, thinking about the meeting while you’re at the gym, thinking about the friend you just talked to while you’re doing the laundry… What if you could just do this one thing that you’re already doing and do it ALL THE WAY?

If you’re up for it, here’s an experiment: do whatever you were just about to do anyway, and give it 100% of your attention. Keep yourself honest here, when the thoughts turn to something that’s not part of the exact moment you are in, bring yourself back. Notice if, while you were participating, what impact it had on your overall anxiety. Did you lose yourself? How did it feel?

Here’s a little inspiration.

Feel free to comment here on your experience.

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Therapy, at its finest, provides a place for us to know ourselves without judgment. My practice is centered around the idea that change is inevitable,
and that we can shape our lives in ways that allow us to both accept the roots of our history and prepare for the growth of our future.