Because of its increasing popularity in the past five years, I’m guessing you have heard about Mindfulness. But what exactly is Mindfulness and how can you make use of it? Quite simply, Mindfulness is a way of being with and paying attention to your own experience on a moment to moment basis. Instead of being caught up in thinking and planning as we go from task to task, Mindfulness is about experiencing what is happening right now, and paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviors. In many ways, Mindfulness is about being still and noticing.
As a member of our current culture, you most likely understand that we do not naturally gravitate toward being still. We multi-task and fill our daily schedules to the max. If we can do two things at once, we plot how we can add yet one more thing to the mix. Describing this pattern is a very helpful way to understand what Mindfulness is because it is exactly the opposite; you might say that we typically live in a state of “mindlessness”. Our use of electronic devices pulls us even further away from a state of Mindfulness in that we are hooked on constant distraction and stimulation. Last time I went to the airport, nobody was just sitting and waiting for the airplane or talking to each other, they were all on their phones, planning, scheduling and checking social media.
The research tells us that Mindfulness is good for us, and this is why we are seeing so much of this word on the bookshelves and the magazine racks at the grocery store. Our culture needs Mindfulness more than ever, and we usually aren’t even aware of it. There are countless studies pointing to its benefits for both physical and mental health. In fact, practicing mindfulness can even change the physical structure of our brains in ways that are highly associated with improved mental functioning and well being. (Stay tuned for another blog post on this subject).
When faced with compelling evidence about how good something is, we naturally want some of that, and we want it now. The awesome news is that it is available to us whenever and wherever we go. So how can you practice mindfulness? It’s quite simple. You can start by just noticing physical sensations that you are experiencing through your five senses right now. What does the air feel like on your skin? What are the sounds that you are hearing? Are there any smells that you notice? Fully take in what you see around you. Tune in to your body and identify any feelings of tension or discomfort. The goal is to notice these things as they are happening.
When faced with compelling evidence about how good something is, we naturally want some of that, and we want it now.
One more thing. Mindfulness also includes noticing what is happening right now without judgment. When we notice a feeling of tension in our body, we can try to just let it be there without deciding if it is bad and why it is there. If we smell something that we don’t like, we can allow it to be there and even be interested in it. This can often be the more challenging aspect of Mindfulness because we are constantly judging everything in our environment, deciding if we like it or if we don’t.
If you would like to start practicing mindfulness on a regular basis, there are specific exercises that you can learn. You can focus on a particular object whether it be sound or physical sensation. But you can also practice by noticing what is happening as you go about the day. For instance, really pay attention to the smells and sensations of the water on your hands as you wash the dishes. Be fully present for your morning shower, noticing the feel of the water on your body and the sound of it rushing out of the shower head. Again, the great thing about Mindfulness is that we can practice at any time or place.
If you would like to learn more, I will be writing more about Mindfulness in my blog posts. I will also be launching a video course in January, complete with guided meditations and a program to follow. To stay in touch please subscribe to my newsletter for new blog posts and information about my course.