Thursday, January 3, 2013
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness” is a state of being; it is experiential. Simply put, mindfulness is being present in the moment, without judgment. When we are mindful, we are making conscious choices about where we focus our awareness (here, now), and what we do with that awareness. Notice there are a couple of things going on here: we are directing our attention to what is happening here and now, as well as creating some space and objectivity from whatever negativity arises.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
The past and the future -- where many of us spend most of our time -- do not exist! All we have to work with is now and here. This nowhere (now-here) moment is best utilized when we bring to it our full attention, all of our faculties, and an open and spacious mind.
Mindfulness practice helps us to create space in our lives. In that space that is created, there is stillness -- a peace to counterbalance the frenzied pace of modern life. There is also quiet -- where we can hear the subtler messages that bubble up from our minds and bodies; and there is emptiness -- clear, open space that offers room to receive what we have been asking for (a cluttered or scattered mind does not have enough room to hold what we desire!).
Techniques for Incorporating Mindfulness Every Day
Throw Yourself into the Moment
Tune into your body. Where are you tense and where are you relaxed? Notice what is happening with each of your 5 senses. Focus all of your attention and energy on the task at hand and notice how that is for you.
Check in with yourself
Ask yourself: What am I feeling right now? What am I needing or wanting right now? What is the cause? Give yourself ample time to answer.
At least once a day, make time to simply focus on your breath. Pay attention to each inhale and each exhale. Deepen and lengthen your breath. Whenever your mind wanders, just bring your attention back to your breath. Practice disconnecting from the storyline and redirect your focus on your breathing -- you can worry/fret/plan/address those things later. Just be in this moment with this breath.
Create a trigger to remind you to incorporate these practices into your routine. Start a morning meditation ritual or a pm journaling ritual; incorporate transition breathing into your day (e.g., every time you get in the car, every time you transition from one activity or environment to another, etc...). Times that we notice shallow breathing or tension in our bodies are also good reminders to stop, check in and breathe. If all else fails, set an alarm!
Replace Judgment with Observation
This is not easy, but it is a habit worth developing. Judgment is so automatic, and unfavorable for ourselves and for others! Our thoughts, which are often little more than automatic self-talk, are the food we feed our minds. The garbage in/garbage out model applies here. The bottom line is that we want to be conscious of our thoughts, and addressing automatic judgments is a good place to start.
The next time you notice a judgment (e.g., “I shouldn’t have said that, they’ll think I’m dumb”; “Here he goes again!...”; “She’s so negative.”), change the statement to an observation (e.g., “I am feeling self-conscious about what I said”; “He is repeating a pattern”; “She is having a hard time seeing anything good or finding any hope in her situation”). This takes practice, however the energetic shift that happens when we begin to turn the mind has immediate benefits. And, it gets easier with practice!
Replace Judgment with Curiosity
When we notice we are getting particularly stuck in judgment, shift to curiosity. Wonder about it with childlike innocence instead of diving into the deep end of the negativity pool. We can also be curious about our own process by asking, “Why is it so hard to disconnect from this situation/feeling/thought? What is here for me to learn?”
Replacing judgment with observation and curiosity helps us to cut through the storyline to the bottom line -- what IS, here and now. These practices also get us closer to our compassionate nature, where separation from ourselves and others dissolves, and fresh perspectives, opportunities and creative solutions are born.