There is so much information available about mindfulness these days. You’d think that it is something new, that’s never been thought of before!
The sheer number of books, videos, blogs, etc. on the topic can be overwhelming. It’s enough to make anyone think that it is a really complicated topic that requires lots of learning to practice it successfully.
The truth is that it is a practice that is easy to achieve and will benefit anyone who takes the time to devote some attention to themselves on an ongoing basis.
The wisest and most successful people throughout history have always had a greater degree of ‘mindfulness’ than the average person, simply because they took time to notice what was happening to them and around them.
So, read on if you want to learn how this practice can benefit you in your daily life?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be thought of as “being aware of your current experience in a non-judgmental way.”
Simply put, this means to be paying attention to what you are doing, whatever that may be, and how you are feeling in this current moment. To achieve this we need to ‘self-regulate’ our attention to the present moment and accept what is happening with openness and curiosity and without judgment.
Surely that’s not too hard? But why would we want to do that?
By being attentive, we can be awed by simple events such as our child’s smile, the opening of a flower, the rainbow in a soap bubble, the song of the birds, waves breaking on the beach, and so much more of the stuff that we currently take for granted and pay ‘little’ attention to.
Mindful living allows us to see, what we currently think we know and understand about the world around us, with new eyes, new feelings, and new emotions. By focusing our senses we are able to experience everything on a deeper level, and it is this participation in our current experience that develops feelings of excitement, joy, and awe within us. Paying attention to more of the moments, more often, in our lives positively enhances our whole life experience.
We can use a mindfulness practice to help create space to think, to breathe, to relax, and most importantly, a space between us and our reactions. By investigating our thoughts we are able to consciously choose how we feel and think about them and then choose how to react in the most beneficial way.
Are you saying there is a better way to live my life?
Most of us accept the ‘lot’ we have been given in life and rarely challenge ourselves to experience anything outside of the box that conforms to our consensus reality. We just expect things to continue the same as they have been for generations in the past. I.e. we are born, go to school, get a job, fall in love, buy a house, have a family, pay the mortgage, work for 40 years, consume large amounts of stuff, retire, and die.
If this is what you expect from life, then I would say that you are one of the mainstream who is ‘sleepwalking’ through the majority of your life, or living on autopilot.’ Benjamin Franklin was referring to these people when he said: ”Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”
It is unfortunate that most of us are living a large portion of our lives on ‘autopilot.’ Research has shown that “People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.” The same researchers, (psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University,) said “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost,” and “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
We are doing a lot of stuff automatically because the patterns of repetition that we have built up over time have become ingrained into us so that we do not need to think about what we are doing. Our mind is then free to wander and be consumed by other thoughts. These ‘other’ thoughts are not based on our current experience, but are more often than not, our mind regurgitating memories, or thoughts of what we want in the future, or passing judgment on what is happening. These things happen when our minds return to their default ‘autopilot’ mode. In this state, we are not really connected to our current life experience, which means that we are missing out on ‘most of our lives.’ Not being connected can leave us feeling dissatisfied, empty and quite shallow.
So what can I do to improve my life experience?
Practices like mindfulness give us the opportunity to wake up and be present in our lives so that we can truly participate in what is happening at this moment. It is entirely up to each one of us as to how much of our time we choose to be present every day. If we can awaken from some of our ‘mindless’ habits and focus some more of our attention on what we are actually doing and feeling we will change the way we feel and think about life. This will enhance our life experience as we will begin to understand more about ourselves and our interactions with others, nature and the process of life itself.
It is by being non-judgmental that we learn to observe life as it unfolds and revel in the magnificence and beauty that are found in the moments that ‘sleepwalking’ people miss.
It is only when we do something new or stuff that we are unfamiliar with that our full attention is required so that we may ‘learn’ the new task.
Have you noticed that when you go on holiday you automatically become more present more of the time? This is simply because there are so many new things that attract your attention. You are removed from your familiar surroundings and exposing all of your senses to new experiences. Your senses take over and give your busy mind a much-needed rest.
Even if you have no travel plans, you can achieve similar effects by shaking up your regular routine by trying new activities, taking different routes to work or school, or eating different types of meals. Your senses will love you for it!
Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about how easy it can be to cultivate mindfulness in our lives: “It’s not really about sitting in the full lotus, like pretending you’re a statue in a British museum.” “It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”
How do I become more mindful?
- Slow down. Take time to pause before automatically reacting
- Pay close attention to your breathing
- Notice what you are feeling at this moment and become aware that ‘You are not your feelings.’ They are just something that you are experiencing, and they often change
- Pay attention to your current thoughts and realize that ’You are not your thoughts.’ They are fleeting and often change and they do not define you
- Focus on one task at a time
- Make time every day just to be with yourself and observe the moment as it is without judgment. If you notice yourself becoming judgmental, just let it go and return to your breath
- Release all judgments you have about how you are feeling and what you are thinking
- When you notice your mind wandering, which it will, just gently return it to the present moment again
- Don’t take any moment for granted. Bring your attention to even the simple boring tasks and you may be surprised at what you can learn about yourself and the world at large
- Always be kind to yourself and don’t judge yourself if your mind keeps wandering off. This will happen as it is our habit to do so. Just return to the present moment every time that you become aware of it
What are some benefits of becoming more mindful?
- Mindfulness helps us tap into our intuition by filtering out all the unnecessary mental chatter that is constantly going on inside our heads
- We become more knowledgeable about ourselves when we remove all the excess distractions that plague our days, and more in tune with the environment surrounding us
- We tend to worry less, stress less, and be less anxious about stuff that used to upset us. Being conscious in the present moment prevents us from worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future as well as rehashing old stories from the past
- We develop a greater capacity to deal with problems that may arise because our thinking process is ‘more clear’ and focused directly on the issues without distractions
- Physically, our bodies benefit from being able to achieve greater degrees of relaxation. We breathe deeper and slower, and our organs are able to relax as our blood pressure lowers
- We become mindful of our responses to situations rather than just reacting out based on past habits
- As we tune into ourselves, we are also able to tune into others around us which helps us achieve greater connections with our loved ones as well as improving our working and social relationships. We also notice the effect that other people have on us
- We get to experience more love, joy, compassion, peace, and creativity in our own lives
What is an easy way to begin to develop mindfulness in my daily life?
It is important to understand that there is no way to completely quiet our mind. This is not something to be concerned about as it is a natural aspect of human nature. However, with practice, we are able to stretch out the moments between wandering thoughts so that we remain ‘present’ more often and for longer periods of time.
Different techniques are available for cultivating mindfulness, and you may find one more suitable than another. However, I would like to emphasize that it is not difficult, and should not be over-complicated by thinking about it too much. Just do it. Just become more observant of yourself (thoughts, feelings, sensations within the body) without judgment, more of the time. That’s all! We can all do this if we want to.
For more detailed information and a guide to beginners meditation and cultivating mindfulness, please check out https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/
What are your experiences regarding mindfulness? Have you tried it, and in what way has it affected your life? I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
Written with the hope of making some lives a little brighter through the information we share.
With love and respect,