Mindfulness. What does it mean to be mindful? What does it mean to be present? In a time where so many things are constantly vying for our attention – and not simply the plethora of incoming stimuli tugging at our physical senses, but also the many demands and obligations and memories and plans and worries and doubts and oh, you get it – how can we focus on the here and now? And why would paying attention to the present moment serve us, anyhow, when it seems like there are more important things to be concerned about? We are busy, and BUSY is important. Right?
Let’s start with a general definition, so that we’re all on the same page. Mindfulness, in its simplest terms, is paying attention on purpose to the present experience without judgment. So what’s the big deal? It sounds easy. It turns out, trying to do it from a nonjudgmental standpoint may be one of the hardest tasks. We are built by design to judge our experiences. This comes in handy. But sometimes, we go overboard. Actually, we go overboard a lot. Taking time out everyday to intentionally pay attention can increase awareness of how we talk to ourselves and can change how we experience the world and ourselves, for the better.
Studies have shown that regular mindfulness practice can lower blood pressure and regulate heart rate, for example. Practicing mindfulness regularly has also been shown to increase memory, attention, and focus, foster a sense of peace, and cultivate compassion and empathy. It doesn’t take a scientist to make the connection between these benefits and relationships. We can learn to create a buffer between our experiences and our responses, moving from reactivity into more thoughtful actions, which carries a greater chance of producing the outcomes we desire. So how do you start?
Intentionally observe what’s going on around you and within you (your mind, your body). What do you see? What do you hear? What do you taste, smell? Identify any physical sensations, from the support beneath you to any muscle tension or hunger or fatigue. Thoughts will inevitably float to the surface (or, in some cases, flood your awareness). This is normal. Our brains secrete thoughts, similar to how the pancreas secretes insulin. When your attention attaches to any particular thought, gently notice it and redirect your attention to your breath. Again, easier said than done. I get it! It’s hard to do! But that’s why it’s called a practice. Notice the emphasis on the word gentle. This is where the nonjudgment comes into play. Try not to criticize yourself or judge the experience. Gently redirect your attention back to your breath. It is this simple (read: DIFFICULT) task that we repeat again and again throughout the practice, which is actually building a new habit. We are slowly breaking down a habit of negative self-talk or worry about what’s to come or ruminating over a past moment, so that we can create space for a new habit of compassion toward ourselves, opening up a freedom to truly experience our lives as they are happening. If you’d like to learn more about how you can incorporate more mindfulness into your day, you’re invited to attend my FREE workshop. Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you!