Have you ever gotten in your car to go somewhere and then suddenly realized that you are going the wrong way? That your car seemingly had a mind of its own, and you, on autopilot, have driven the same route that you often drive even though it is not in fact the direction that you intended to go at that moment? This is a classic example of the mindlessness that we often find ourselves in on a daily basis. Maybe we have an extra-long to do list, something big on our minds or a concern we can’t seem to let go of. These distractions keep us from being connected to the present moment in myriad ways.
Perhaps you have heard that living in the present moment is the key to happiness and contentment. There is even a cheesy saying about this: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” But how do we actually practice mindfulness? What does it feel like to be in the present as often as possible? That is what I’d like to explore in this blog.
First, I want to invite you to be gentle with yourself about this. When examining an esoteric concept like this, we have a tendency to recognize first all the ways in which we aren’t mindful and almost immediately to make ourselves wrong for going through life so mindlessly. That is natural, but not necessarily helpful. Notice for sure, but try not to judge. When you know better, you’ll do better, and I will be providing some tools to help you. Noticing is what gives us the capacity to return to mindfulness, but beating ourselves up about slipping out of it is like making ourselves wrong for being human.
The essence of the coaching, speaking, writing and healing work that I do is centered around the ability to change our perspective about our circumstances (or those in the world) at any given time. It is so easy to get bogged down by the heaviness of the bad news we hear over and over again, our own struggles, and the fast-pace of our daily lives. I do this work not because it comes easily to me do shift my own perspective, but precisely because the density in the world has impacted me so greatly that I have learned to utilize this practice as a means of survival.
My own personal definition of mindfulness is being aware of the wonder of life. It happens naturally when we are experiencing something beautiful – music, connection with another human being, nature, or even a lovely memory. We can also create mindfulness experiences at any time. It is easiest in those moments when life forces us to slow down for a bit – on an airplane, standing in line, at a stoplight or during those rare moments to ourselves. That is one of the reasons I have come to appreciate church, even though for most of my life I have not been big on religion. It provides an opportunity to be mindful – even inspired – for an entire hour at a time.
The most amazing aspect of mindfulness, though, is being able to find it even in the midst of something difficult. For most of my life, I have gone immediately to mindless escapes when life felt like too much – television, unhealthy food, games on my phone or reading. (And I still do – I am much better at not beating myself up now, and recognizing there is another way sooner.) There is not anything inherently wrong with any of those, but there is a huge difference between engaging them mindfully or mindlessly. In fact, it’s not really about the coping mechanism at all, but how you use it. Any act can be either mindful or mindless. We started this off with the great everyday example of driving a car mindlessly. It can be done mindfully as well. Our mindless practices are habits. They are always there and we will do them without thinking or even noticing.
So how do you cultivate more mindfulness in your life? I will share a few basic principles and some things that tend to disrupt our mindfulness, but one of the best ways to be mindful is to practice meditation for at least a few minutes a day. I set a timer on my phone first thing in the morning and do it lying down on my bed. That makes it easy regardless of where I am (or who else might be in the room). For those minutes, I focus on my breath, acknowledge and then dismiss any thoughts that arise, and just be. This practice makes it more natural to be mindful outside of meditative practices in the rest of life as well.
Disruptions to mindfulness:
Multitasking – try to do only one thing at a time and be as present as you can to that task.
Fear – the acronym approach to this word tells you why it takes us out of the present moment – False Evidence Appearing Real. Unless you are being chased by a wild animal or mugged at gunpoint (and you can be mindful even in those situations) then your fear isn’t real – it’s in your mind, in the future or related to the past.
Habit – like the driving example I started with, our tendency to be on auto-pilot or in a hurry all the time will keep us from noticing. Shake things up by taking a different route to work, wearing a different outfit, eating different foods or listening to different music (or none at all).
Notice – Just stop and notice – your feelings, surroundings, blessings, anything!
Breathe – being aware of your breath is one of the easiest ways to be mindful.
Be still – when possible just be still for a moment even and go inward.
Feel – feeling our feelings is freeing. Stuffing them or escaping them is mindless.
I would love to hear what mindfulness is opening up for you if you’d like to share on my Facebook author page. I will include a prompt with a link to this blog. If you have a friend who could benefit from receiving this kind of information, I invite you to share it with them and encourage them to sign up for my mailing list. Thanks.