Mindfulness seems to be somewhat of a Buzz Word lately, even in circles it’s rarely been mentioned in before. Why is this? Is it because of “the grass is always greener…” phenomena? Have we, as a society, gotten so far away from being mindful that it has become the coveted “thing we don’t have”? I don’t know, but I think there’s a connection. I think “things” have gotten so fast, even somewhat automatic, that taking a moment to be mindful of our life feels like coming up for a breath of air after swimming across the entire length of the pool under water. No one will deny that huge sense of accomplishment when you finally make it across the whole pool without surfacing; but how good does that breathe of air feel the moment you finish? That’s what mindfulness feels like to me, filling your life with more of those quality “moments”.
Mindfulness is practiced by many different people in many different ways and for just as many reasons, very much like meditation. Some people confuse mindfulness with meditation, and although they are often combined in mindfulness meditation (ex. being mindful of your breath while meditating), mindfulness is merely one of many types of meditation. Generally speaking, the goal of meditation is to reach a heightened level of overall consciousness as a human being, whereas mindfulness is about living in the now; being aware of what is happening as it is happening without judgment, without even necessarily thinking about it, just experiencing it as it actually is. In short, the goal of mindfulness is to focus on being in the present, one moment at a time. Both are great practices alone and/or together. Knowing what you want to achieve and finding the method that works for you is what’s important. Personally, I have a daily practice of mindfulness, and I try to incorporate mediation into my life as often as I can. So, even though I don’t always make time for meditation, I’m always working on mindfulness.
Lately, I’ve been asked “Why do people practice mindfulness” and “What’s so great about it”? I imagine answers vary greatly depending on who you ask. For me, having a mindfulness practice helps me stay grounded in my most authentic self, thereby helping me to get the most out of my life (becoming my Best Self to live my Best Life). By regularly touching base with what is real and how I feel about it, as opposed to what I think about it (or even what others think about it), I become more consciously aware of what is truly important to me, what matters to me; as opposed to allowing myself to get too caught up in or carried away with the everyday fast paced auto pilot of social comparisons and competitions; all of the external “shoulds”, which is so easy to do. This may sound strange but, by purposefully staying in touch my core values, I end up taking a more active role in living my life intentionally (instead of waking up and realizing that years have passed and wondering where the time has gone).
Some still wonder why that’s important to me. After having a mindfulness practice for a while, I have definitely noticed that I am far more grounded, stable and comfortable in my beliefs surrounding who I really am (my most authentic/best self), who I want to be (the role I want to have in my life story), and how I want to live and/or show up so that I feel good when I go to bed each night. I believe this is because now, as a result of this practice, when I am faced with certain situations, I am better able to instinctively stop for a second…and consciously choose how to respond; versus before I would have merely reacted and, much of the time, fought with myself later about that reaction; How could I have said or done such a stupid thing, what was I thinking, etc.… thereby continuing to waste more of my life feeling badly about myself and, thus, creating a negative chain reaction; setting a mood/tone for whatever came next based on something that was already done. Now, because I work on making a habit out of stopping (if only for a split second) and getting in touch with what actually is, as opposed to my thoughts around it (i.e. how it should/shouldn’t be or even how others might perceive it), I am more aware of the difference between consciously choosing a response that is true to me versus reacting from a place of fear, anger, excitement, etc.… a place triggered by my thoughts and/or emotions about the situation instead of the actual situation. The more subtle, yet constantly increasing, benefit I feel is an overall sense of more depth in more moments of my life; I actually notice more incredible things than I use to on an ordinary day. I have become increasingly aware of how amazing our universe is and it helps fill me with a sense of gratitude even when I may be having a bad day. In the long run, the ability to appreciate the richness of these moments more fully, adds up to more days, weeks, months, etc. and eventually more of my life.
Ultimately, by making a practice of mindfulness I am basically just training my brain to periodically stop and be more aware of things that are happening, as they are happening, and process them without judgement or even too much thought. Very much the same way I have trained my brain to drive a large suburban down crowded streets and end up at Target without much recollection of how I got there; it’s all about creating a habit through repetition, and it’s amazing how quickly your brain can adapt. Your brain is an incredible piece of a physiological miracle. When I’m driving to Target, for example, I am generally not triggered by emotions or thoughts about the trip, so my mind is free to wander. It wanders over to thoughts about the past, the future, songs on the radio…and before I know it, I’m parking the car. Now, because of my practice, when I, and/or my body, am triggered by emotions or thoughts, I am better able to notice the sensation of my mind running away (or sometimes just spinning) and stop it. Sort of like training a loyal pet who, because of past experiences, trusts you unconditionally so that when you ask it not to run off, it instinctively listens. Eventually, some pets will actually wait and look to you for a command before even considering running off; you have earned that trust. In much the same way, mindfulness has allowed me to become better at controlling my thoughts as opposed to allowing my thoughts to be in control of me.
As far as what my mindfulness practice is, I try to be mindful most of the time; whether I’m doing menial tasks around the house or having serious conversations with loved ones. I make an effort to stay mindful when I’m with my kids and even when I’m at the gym. However, almost every day I make a point to consciously dedicate some time to my practice, much the same way I dedicate time to the other muscles in my body that I want to maintain or strengthen. To do this, I generally walk outside, in nature, with my dog. I watch the trees, sometimes a butterfly or a bird, or just my dog as he appreciates everything around him, with no obvious thoughts or judgments about anything beyond the moment. I do, and have done, many other types of mindfulness meditations and practices, but as for a consistent practice, which I feel is the most important ingredient for success at anything, for me, it’s always involved walking, nature, and the conscious decision to release all thoughts and judgments about whatever is happening from my mind and just be aware of WHAT IS. I notice thoughts and judgments when they occur (because they definitely still occur) I just don’t give them any time or attention. I notice it’s happening and I practice moving on, letting them go by like a cloud in the sky and I refocus on what is happening around me.
Do you have a mindfulness practice? What is it? Don’t have one yet? What will it be? You can google “mindfulness” and get more ideas and/or possibilities than you have time to try; check it out and see if any of them speak to you. What have you got to lose?
The way I look at it is this: The human body is between 50 and 75% water, with the average human body consisting of around 55%. That is at least half of our body weight! Knowing that, try to imagine yourself as a large container of water. When that container is calm, the surface area of the water is like a mirror, accurately reflecting all of its surroundings. However, if you rattle that container, throw a pebble into it, etc.… the water begins to ripple and the reflection of its surroundings becomes distorted. I think of having a mindfulness practice as a tool to help “keep my waters calm” so that when “life happens”, I can process a clear reflection of what is actually happening and choose how to respond. As opposed to reacting to a distorted perception of that reality.
Have fun finding a practice that works best for you, no matter what it ends up being. Maybe you’ll come up with something brand new and unique to you. Maybe you’ll have a few different practices for various times/situations and/or circumstances in your life. There are no rules, the important thing is that it works for you and that you do it, that’s really all that matters!
Be an active participant in your life, one moment at a time. You won’t be sorry!