What is mindfulness?
Definitions from dictionaries include: awareness, attention, regard, heedfulness.
One that I especially liked from Wikipedia is: The practice whereby a person is intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Mindfulness is applied to both bodily actions and the mind’s own thoughts and feelings.
We can be mindful anywhere, any time.
During yoga practice, while brushing our teeth, walking to the car, walking in nature, washing the dishes, while speaking to someone. Any time.
We can be mindful of our bodies: our breathing, how strong or weak we feel at the moment, aches and pains, how hard we’re trying to maintain yoga poses or relaxing into them.
And we can be mindful of our thoughts: thinking about things in the past (a previous conversation or event) or the future (all the things we have to do next, how we’ll handle certain situations, worrying about the future).
And we can be mindful of our surroundings and the people around us: the temperature, the weather, how someone is reacting to what we said, how others are dressed.
Being mindful is simply noticing what is in the present moment without judging it.
Mindfulness means slowing down
It’s frequently difficult to stop the constant chatter in our heads (and from our electronic devices).
I remember when I first considered meditation many years ago. I was a typical type A person who didn’t know how to slow down. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could sit still and think of nothing for more than thirty seconds.
Like learning any new skill, I had to start somewhere. And thirty seconds was pushing it for me at the time.
With regular practice I can now happily sit for about twenty minutes.
With more practice, I’ve been able to bring that same sense of quiet and mindfulness to the rest of my day.
Mindfulness with other people
This has helped me to be much less reactive and more thoughtful and proactive in my relationships with others.
I now take a moment to notice the condition of the person speaking to me. If they’re angry at me, are they having a bad day? Did something else upset them earlier? Have they not had enough to eat (low blood sugar can do a number on most people) or sleep?
I ask myself how I might have contributed to the issue instead of immediately getting defensive.
If I can’t figure out the cause, I usually tell myself, “They have issues.” This keeps me from taking things personally that usually have nothing to do with me. It keeps me from needlessly attaching myself (and my ego) to the other person and their issues and causing myself unnecessary anguish.
Mindfulness with myself
In the first half hour of when I wake up each morning, I’m mindful of how I’m feeling physically and emotionally. Doing this without judgment helps my entire day flow much more easily.
If I’m feeling tired or not as strong as normal, I know not to push myself too hard that day. I don’t judge myself as weak, pushing myself harder to get things done only to be disappointed that I didn’t complete things as well as I normally would.
If I’m feeling anxious or upset or cranky, I ask myself where that’s coming from. If it’s something I can do something about, I try to change the situation so I feel better. If it’s something I can’t control or I can’t figure out where the feelings are coming from, I accept things just as they are, take a few deep breaths and smile, even if I don’t feel like it. It’s amazing how breathing deeply and smiling for at least thirty seconds can change your mood.
I’ll do a body scan and notice any aches or tight spots. Instead of approaching them as something bad and something to get rid of (i.e. judging and resisting them), I focus on them deeply. Usually trying hard to get rid of them guarantees that they won’t go away. Accepting them helps them to melt away.
Mentally I go into the area of pain, asking the sore spot what it’s trying to tell me. Sometimes that focus and non-judgmental questioning are enough to release it. Other times I learn more about myself from the answers I receive.
It’s kind of a running joke between my wife and me. Any time I have any kind of physical issue/pain, we both know that the cause is never from an injury or something outside of me. The cause always comes from within.
I bought Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body A-Z: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Way to Overcome Them and use it all the time to look up my physical issue and find the related mental/emotional issue. As soon as I focus on resolving the issue in my head, the physical problem “magically” resolves itself.
Mindfulness involves not only taking a moment to notice ourselves and our surroundings but to do it in a non-judgmental way. This is very difficult for most people to do.
We naturally label/judge almost everything in some kind of “good” or “bad” category.
If I’m feeling cranky, that’s bad.
If I’m feeling energized, that’s good.
If someone is mad at me, that’s bad.
If I’m being very productive, that’s good.
Approaching all of these things mindfully means simply noticing them as they are. There is no good or bad. It’s just the way things are. I can choose to change them or accept them as they are.
If I judge them, I become attached to them and I allow them to affect my feelings and possibly my behaviors.
If I notice them in a non-judgmental way, they float by me and I’m free to go about my day feeling lighter.
Mindfulness is a practice
Being mindful is something we do one moment at a time, taking baby steps to incorporate it into various aspects of our lives.
It’s a practice that more profoundly affects our lives the more we practice it.
I am infinitely happier now and have much more fulfilling relationships than when I started many years ago and first considered quieting my mind enough to really notice things. Noticing things without judgment took a little longer and had an even larger effect.
Take a moment right now to be mindful. Be present.
Notice your thoughts. Are they here in the present moment? Or in the past or future?
Notice your body. Do you feel relaxed or tense? Where do you feel these sensations?
Notice your environment. Is it quiet or noisy? Hot, cold or comfortable? What, exactly, do you hear and see? Who is around you?
How do you feel because of how you interpret all of these things? Nothing and nobody “makes” you feel a certain way. It’s all about how you choose to interpret it and how you choose to react or feel about it.
Be mindful now, in the present moment. This is really all you have.