What is Mindfulness?
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing,
Drop your shoulders. Release the tension in your tongue and jaw.
Find a comfortable place to sit. Your back is comfortably straight and your legs and arms are comfortably supported.
Allow your thoughts flow by, leaving just as easily as they come to you.
Notice how you feel as your breath flows in and out. Check through your body as you do a mental scan:
What do your socks feel like?
Notice them, then let the sensation go.
What do your elbows feel like?
Notice them and let sensation go.
You recalled that thing you did yesterday.
Acknowledge the memory and let it fade.
You are right here and right now.
Am I angry? Blissful? Exhausted?
Take note, then let it go.
Something smells funny.
OK. Let it go.
That plan you have for later?
That’s later. You’re here and now, not there.
Let it come and let it go, just like your breath.
This is mindfulness
It’s the practice—
something you repeat in order to attain experience and skill
—of being attentive to where you are and what you are doing while you are doing it, and how you feel, without judgment.
Buddhists call it sati and Zen practitioners call it Vipassanā.
Simply put, it’s all about this:
Be here. Be now
The only place we can be is the present, right?
So much of our daily lives are occupied by planning, comparing with the past, identifying and judging options, creating plans of action, strategic monitoring, et cetera. These are amazing cognitive abilities that are perhaps even one of humankind’s distinguishing capacities.
However, reflecting, planning and so on are activities that mentally take place in the past or future, not the here and now.
For all the glory multi-tasking is given, do you truly walk, talk, chew gum and plan a party superbly well when you do them all at once? Or aren’t we more likely to swallow the gum, trip or forget a part of our plan because our attention is in too many places?
In contrast, it’s almost magical how people who are passionate about an activity become so absorbed in it that everything else seems to disappear as they perform perfectly. Have you ever felt the rest of the world cease to exist when running the 100-meter dash, kissing that special person, or reading your favorite book?
So, practicing mindfulness
A bit like sports, start small and extend as your body and mind tell you they’re ready.
Start by taking out ten minutes a day to just sit and be. Our brains will naturally wander; the practice of mindfulness is bringing them back.
One of the most effective ways to re-focus is to concentrate on your breathing. When you find yourself thinking, bring your attention back to the tranquil rhythm of the air effortlessly entering and leaving your body.
As time goes on, you will find that you can stay present for longer periods. You don’t need much time; what you need is dedication and persistence.
Once you have practiced doing nothing for a little while, pick a task to focus on completely for ten minutes and repeat the exercise. Be aware of what you do, how you feel and the sensations of that one task alone for ten minutes. When your brain wanders, calmly come back to the task at hand.
What are the results?
Every person and body are different.
You might find that you handle pain better and have a lower overall stress level.
It may get easier to avoid getting hung up on situations and thoughts as you progressively learn that they inevitably fade with time.
Changes could gradually appear in other parts of your life:
It might get easier to pay attention for longer periods of time and to be truly invested in your daily activities and interactions.
Maybe you will be able to detect and identify your physical sensations as you become more in tune with your body’s way of sending messages.
Maybe these moments of calm will help you see beauty and good around you.
Maybe your relationships will transform as a fruit of the internal calm you’re cultivating:
Psychological research has explored how accepting what you notice in yourself—neither justifying nor condemning, but simply acknowledging it—can help develop compassion and empathy for others.
This calm distance might make it easier to say “no”… or “yes”, or help you make better decisions in general.
Maybe you’ll become a better listener.
Awareness comes with practice. We all have brains that flit, emotions that flash and bodies that strive, and we all have to find our own ways to come to peace with them.
How does being mindful help you?