I sat on my front porch this morning, journal and pen in hand, enjoying a bit of sunshine and quiet time.
As I tuned in to the sensory-rich environment, I wondered again if others experience things as I do. I could hear a long, lonely train whistle in the ‘far distance’, the sound of the powerful engine and the wheels clacking over the tracks.

At the same time, in the ‘near distance’, I heard dogs barking in different directions, a squirrel scratching on the bark of a tree behind me, someone talking next door, a car starting and plane overhead. Meanwhile, I felt the hot Denver sun burning my skin, saw the dark blue of the sky and the shadow of my pen moving across the page.

That’s me, being mindfully ADHD. This may not sound like traditional mindfulness, but it is one way I I have learned to use the practice. My goal with this specific practice is to ‘keep my head and my body together’, in hopes that I will be able to keep my head and my body for longer periods of the time - eventually. To help with this, I developed a process that I call mindful journaling™. The journaling aspect helps focus my attention for longer on sensory input. More about that coming soon . . . ).

Macro-awareness: Although things I mentioned in the opening paragraphs are going on simultaneously, I’m told that my brain processes them sequentially. According to neuroscience research, the brain is unable to ‘fully focus’ on more than one thing without changing tasks. I seem to recognize each of these sensations in flashes – MTV-like - so it makes sense that my focus is changing. The research also indicated that each time the focus changes, it creates a tiny gap in memory. This may explain the problems many of us have with short-term or working memory.

My awareness at the macro-level is more of the gestalt – the whole, if you will. Does that sound mindful? In so much as mindfulness is about being present, experiencing the now and labeling your experience, I think it is; it works for the purpose of ‘keeping my head with my body’. Perhaps it could be called mindfulness ADHD-style.

Micro-awareness: If mindfulness is about tuning in, it seems I have different frequencies. I consider some things to be in the ‘near distance’ and others in the ‘far distance’ – the foreground and the background – some internal and others external. In training I attended last week, we did the raisin activity, where you focus on different aspects of the raisin - how it smells, looks, feels, tastes, etc. I consider that to be micro-attention. The raisin and my sense of it were in the foreground and it was more of an internal experience. Of course, while doing the activity I was also aware of the clattering in the hotel kitchen and someone talking non-stop outside our room, presumably on a cell phone (macro-awareness).

I am not sure if people without ADHD hear and sense so many things seemingly at once; I assume it is part of my hyper-sensitivity. Since I’ve never known another way of experiencing the world, this is my normal – it works for me. Many people with Bi-Polar Disorder won’t take their medication because they like the high energy instead of the lower energy level. I get that - I am not sure I’d like being me without ADHD. I know from taking the wrong dose of medication a couple of times, I did not like that blah-affect and feeling of apathy. I don’t know if that was ‘normal’ for someone without ADHD of just what it feels like to be over-medicated. Thankfully, with the right dose and combination of meds, I am more functional, without losing too much of me.

With a bit more research on mindfulness, I discovered a model that explains and integrates my micro and macro awareness theory. I was delighted to find that the pioneer of interpersonal neurobiology, Dan Siegel, MD, has developed a model called Mindsight that makes sense of these levels of awareness. He uses the analogy “wheel of awareness” to explain how the mind is influenced by four distinct ‘hubs’ within the wheel – our senses, our feelings, our thoughts and our connections to others.

Dr. Siegel offers free resources on his website, including a downloadable mp3 called Wheel of Awareness III ( http://drdansiegel.com/resources/wheel_of_awareness/). This is an audio recording of Dr. Siegel leading a 30-minute meditation. He takes the listener through each ‘hub’, focusing on the macro-level (external focus) of the senses, then the ‘micro-level’ (internal focus) of emotions and thoughts, and back to the ‘macro-level’ of connections with others. It’s very exciting to know this resource is available to hone all levels of awareness!

I am not sure about others with ADHD, but I do much better when following guided meditation. It prevents me from being distracted by the macro-level input, particularly when using headphones. My attunement to the speaker’s voice helps me focus on the micro-level. This is probably the closest I come to traditional mindfulness.

In Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation tradition, the meditator assumes the role of observer, watching him/herself from a distance. When thoughts or feelings arise, they are labeled ‘thinking’ or ‘judgment’ or ‘feeling’, then released. This allows the meditator to return to the role of observer. One of the benefits of this practice is to learn detachment, a cornerstone of Buddhism.

For people with ADHD or other challenges that include intrusive thoughts and impulsivity, this practice can be very useful. I have read of people who learned to release and simply observe horrific intrusive thoughts and obsessive behaviors using traditional Buddhist mindfulness.

I once read a writer’s response to a question someone posted about changing jobs to find something more enjoyable that she could do ‘mindfully’. The writer’s response was thoughtful and comprehensive, but the gist was this: you can do anything mindfully, whether it is filing, washing dishes or emptying trash. The analogy helped me understand that mindfulness had secular applications outside the meditation room.

Neuroscientists who are interested in how mindfulness improves brain function consider mindfulness from a strictly functional perspective. It seems the term mindfulness has become interchangeable with attention, focus, concentration, awareness and others. This can be confusing when one is learning about mindfulness. Rather than a contemplative religious practice, it has become mainstream, more a skill to be applied to tasks than a way of being.

My understanding is that Buddhist monks spend many years and thousands of hours in meditation cultivating detachment, loving kindness, etc. They become more conscious in all aspects of their lives as a result. Rather than enter their contemplative practice to become more mindful, they become more mindful as they develop spiritually. It is often said of Buddhist and Taoist practices, if you are trying to accomplish a specific goal, you have missed the point. It’s about the journey – being conscious in the moment - not the destination of learning to be mindful.

Marsha Linehan, the mother of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), introduced mindfulness to the mental health community in the early 90’s. This may have been the beginning of the wider application of mindfulness in society. To date, thousands of people seeking mental health treatment have learned to use mindfulness skills to cope with serious (and not so serious) psychological and behavioral problems. Emotional regulation is one of the fundamental tenets of DBT. Incidentally, emotional regulation is one of the primary challenges for many, if not most, people with ADHD and many other mental health challenges.

Well . . . in true ADHD fashion, I got side-tracked talking about mindfulness instead of what it’s like as a woman with ADHD. I think you will learn what you need to about ‘me and my ADHD’ from this article. This is how I live my life – one hyper-focused, tangential tale after another, all the while trying to keep my head and my body together as much as possible.

Author's Bio: 

LuAnn Pierce is a licensed clinical social worker and person with ADHD who lives in Denver, CO. She recently launched a blogsite for and about adults with ADHD and related mental health issues. The blogsite focuses on traditional and non-traditional treatment for ADHD, with an emphasis on psychosocial wellness. LuAnn is a therapist and coach. She recently published two new ebooks: Facing the Giant: ADHD in the Workplace (free to download) and In Search of Your Best (ADHD) Self: Psychosocial Skill Development – check the blogsite for a free sample. You can reach LuAnn at: luann@adultadhdhelp.net http://adultadhdhelp.net @adultadhdhelper http://facebook.com/adultadhdhelp