Mindfulness Explained

We’ve all been hearing about Mindfulness lately.  And many people may be be wondering… What exactly is it? Why would we want it?  And how do we do it?
I like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  I recently heard him add “As though your life depended on it.”  Because it does!
Our entire life is made up of moments.  But we live so many of those moments thinking about something else, rather than paying attention to what’s right in front of us.  We may be having a conversation with a friend, and instead of really listening, we are thinking about what we want to say next.  Or drifting off into a memory or a plan that the conversation has evoked.  We may be eating dinner, but watching tv at the same time, and barely remember having eaten.  Even as we are laying in bed, trying to relax or drift off to sleep, our minds may still be spinning, thinking of work, chores, worries, and lists of things to take care of.  
How can we be happy and satisfied with the moments of our lives if we didn’t even notice them, because our minds were someplace else?  The answer is simple.  We can’t.  They’ve done studies.  They’ve written books.  The more our thoughts are in the present moment, paying attention to what we are doing, even for mundane tasks, the happier we are.  The more our minds wander (which, by the way, is most of the time) the less happy we are.  Want some evidence?  Here is a TED talk that sums it up really well.

Henry David Thoreau said it this way, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Living a happier life should be enough, but there is more!  The other reason Mindfulness is so important, is because it gives us choices.  We cannot control events happening around us, or other people’s behaviors or actions.  But if we can be aware of our own thoughts, understand our reactions, and have more control over our responses, then we have the opportunity to make profound changes in lives.  
The thought manifests the word;
The word manifests the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care…
As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become.
~ Buddha, Dhammapada
Every action we take starts with a thought.  Every emotion we feel starts with a thought.  Every word we speak starts with a thought.  Mindfulness allows us be aware of many more thoughts than we are normally conscious of.  And that is when we have choices about how we want to react, and what we want to say or do. Eventually we even begin to have more influence over how we feel, reducing the anger and frustration that come with reactivity, and increasing the joy and satisfaction that come with peace of mind.  
Are you thoroughly convinced of the benefit and usefulness of Mindfulness?  Don’t take my word for it!  Try it!  Now we come to the question of how.  I’d like to write more about this at a later time.  But in the meantime I will say that the best way to start is with silent meditation.  This is because with all of our external distractions removed, our internal thoughts become very loud.  VERY LOUD!  And that’s how to get to know and understand what’s going on in there!
Here is a good, basic guided meditation.  The instructions can be very helpful, and a great way to start.  But I also encourage you to practice on your own in silence at some point so you have more of a chance to hear your own thoughts.  

I will write more on this in later post, but just a quick note that I highly recommend a meditation that is based in the body, such as a body scan, or bringing the attention back to the physical sensation of the breath in the body.  There are many reasons for this, but here is one, the mind may be in the past, the future, or in pure imagination, but the body is always in the present moment.  
We also want to develop Mindfulness throughout the day, not just in silence.  For integrating Mindfulness into your day-to-day life, I have one fun way I like to start.  Pick one thing that happens many times throughout the day, for example, stopping at a red light, receiving a text message, or getting something to drink.  Set the intention that when that happens you will notice it, take a deep breath, and come back to the present moment from wherever your thoughts may have been.  See if you can stay with the breath and the present for a few minutes, or at least as long as you are stuck at the red light!  It might take some practice before you even remember to do this, you’ll get to the end of the day realizing you completely forgot about it.  But if you keep the intention, eventually it will start to click.  Pick one thing and stick with it for a few days or a week, and then add one more!  Over weeks, see if you can add more and more cues that will bring you back to the present moment, and back to living a deliberate, intentional, and happier life.
To see some of my recommended books on mindfulness and meditation, check out my Mind & Soul Bookstore!

Photo details:  This picture was taken at the Canaima Hotel in Santa Theresa, Costa Rica.  April, 2015