The word “mindfulness” seems to be everywhere these days. It’s touted as something we all need to be more of. But what does mindfulness really mean? What does it look like in everyday life?
One good definition I found is this:
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
In other words, mindfulness is about being in the moment, focusing on what’s happening right now. The goal is to bring more awareness into your daily life, instead of constantly getting lost in thoughts of the past or future or losing control to your emotions.
Mindfulness can bring greater enjoyment to life. Some examples:
When petting your cat, just pet the cat: focus on its soft fur and soothing purr. Notice how loose is its skin, and the strength of its muscles. Also notice how you feel in the moment. Acknowledge those feelings. (Not to discriminate against any other type of pet…try something similar with your dog, hamster, hermit crab, whatever.)
When having a meal, are you focused on enjoying what you’re eating, or are you staring at your phone, reading the paper, or watching TV? Are you just wolfing down your food, or are you taking the time to enjoy the flavor, texture and sensation of every bite? Can you identify any of the subtle flavors? Mindful eating not only increases the enjoyment of food, but can also help if you’re trying to lose weight [Read: The Secret Weight Loss Weapon].
The essence of mindfulness is often illustrated by this ancient Zen Buddhism phrase:
Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
What this emphasizes is the need to commit to, and thrive during the process of any pursuit in life, no matter how menial.
Observation with non-judgement
While much emphasis is placed on the enjoyment of life’s experiences that mindfulness brings, there’s more to it than that.
Life isn’t always blissful, and we naturally experience all kinds of normal human emotions, both positive and negative.
Say you’re driving down the highway, and another driver rudely cuts you off. Are you feeling angry? Then acknowledge that feeling, without judgement. Try to “step out” of your anger and examine it. What exactly was it that made you angry? How does it feel in your body? Recognizing how you feel at any moment is the essence of mindfulness.
In practicing mindfulness, we choose the pay attention to whatever we’re experiencing right now: our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, with a sense of non-judgmental acceptance. We observe these things with self-compassion, and then are more willing to let it go afterwards.
A strategy for wellbeing
Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life.Unknown
I’ve spent so much time preparing – and over-preparing – for events in the future that I’ve missed out on the enjoyment of many simple things in everyday life. There are many things that drive this: fear of failure, perfectionism, “FOMO” (fear of missing out) just to name a few. Perhaps you might instead obsess over past events in your life.
The essence of mindfulness is to make a conscious decision to acknowledge, without guilt or shame, what you’ve been doing (i.e., obsessing over the past or future) and instead choose to return your focus to whatever is happening now.
For me, mindfulness is a practice and a skill to be constantly honed, because (in my opinion) it’s not a part of the typical state of human existence in our complex modern world. Some ways that I work on my mindfulness are meditation, yoga, and walking outdoors. Having a mantra, or phrase that reminds me to come back to the present moment, also helps a lot. My favorite is “be here now.”
Give mindfulness a try, just for a day, an hour, or a single moment – and see what happens.
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it.”Sharon Salzberg