What’s happening right now? Are you paying attention to the words you’re reading? How’s your body positioned right now? What do you hear? Is your brain spitting out stressful, frustrating thoughts?
Where is your mind right now?
Mindfulness, it’s suddenly everywhere, but it’s a very real skill that’s been around for thousands of years. It’s simply being with your present experience.
All of our experience
In our modern world, this digital information economy, we spend a lot of time thinking, analyzing, watching screens, being elsewhere.
But the human experience is varied and rich, and we’ve been blessed with so many more ways to interact with the world.
- Pay attention to a physical sense.
- Consider that you are not seeing or hearing, but rather waves of light and pockets of air are coming to you, striking your eyes and ears.
- Sit back and allow this experience to happen.
Another way to think about mindfulness is its opposite – mindlessness. Our attention wanders, beyond the present moment, to the future, to the past, beyond reality.
- Pulling up to your home, but not remembering driving.
- Finishing a conversation, but not recalling anything said.
- Can’t believe the day/month/week/year/decade is over.
- Obsessing the catastrophic possibility of a work project that never happens.
There are real consequences to being on auto-pilot – endangering our health, happiness and even our physical safety. Even when we are thinking about the future or past, we are doing so in the present.
This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor…Welcome and entertain them all.Rumi
Certainly this can come out of a mindfulness practice, but mindfulness is not about relaxation or having an empty mind. It’s about being curious, interested and open to the way things are.
Paying attention to brushing our teeth, sitting in a chair, yet another work meeting. Sounds boring to me. But take another look, lean into your attention. Does the mint in your toothpaste make your tongue tingle and spark a childhood memory? Is the chair you are sitting in warm and welcoming after being out in a cold, wintry day? Do you notice that your co-worker seems to really care about what they are talking about even though no one is paying attention?
Mindfulness is not sitting back and letting these experiences steamroll your attention. We lean in, reflect, consider, observe, notice. We get friendly with the good, bad and ugly.
We welcome all of our thoughts, emotions and experiences to the party (because they are going to show up whether we invite them or not), but with practice, we can decide who we want to spend the most time with.
How can we change something we don’t understand?
Reacting vs Responding
Something happens, anything. Someone says something complimentary or hurtful to you. You were promoted or fired. What happens next? Did you act in way that was helpful, promoted your happiness and well-being?
Maybe you didn’t savor that promotion and immediately started thinking about the next promotion. Or you have been obsessing about getting fired to the point where you haven’t been able to move forward and get a new job.
Good, bad or ugly. Are you reacting, knee-jerk, full of intense emotion, sharp judgement, uninformed assumptions? Or can you respond, calmly, with a broad wisdom that considers all possibilities?
Sam is an amazing listener. He gently helped me hear myself, and recognize what I was actually saying and meaning. I became aware of habitual thought patterns that were less than helpful, and he introduced tools and techniques to help me shift my thoughts into more productive directions.Barbara Miller
Mindfulness is just the Beginning
We can use mindfulness to develop other vital human qualities:
All of these will put you on a path towards joy, peace and fulfillment, no matter what life throws at you.
Some ways I can help
|Catastrophic, negative, future thinking||Compassion||Reflect that you experience suffering just as all humans experience suffering|
|Feeling lost, disconnected from self||Informal Mindfulness||Mindfulness of a seemingly mundane activity (watering the plants, walking the dog)|
|Feeling lost, disconnected from others||Being Social||Easy, group activities (experiment with group meditation)|
|Ruminating on the past, Regrets, Not good enough||Positivity||Purposefully imagine a past positive experience, feeling it in the entire body|
|Wanting, Desiring||Gratitude||Note small pleasures throughout the day that provide genuine, lasting joy|
|Perfectionism, Black-White, All-Nothing Thinking||Perspective||Look up at the sky, consider many possibilities without judgement, discover relief in “not knowing”|