HUMAN BEING OR HUMAN DOING?
You may have recently noticed the term “mindfulness” appearing in mainstream news, pop culture, and possibly even in your child’s homework assignments. Is mindfulness the next new thing, a passing fad, or a temporary cultural sensation? Hopefully not. The concept of mindfulness has been the cornerstone of many religious and meditative traditions for centuries. Let’s try to sort out what it’s all about, how it may be able to help you, and what it can’t do.
To be mindful is to be the opposite of mindless. MindLESSness is the epitome of not paying attention, of moving through life on autopilot. When we are mindless, we may be racing about, multitasking, and trying to solve too many things at once. Do you ever find yourself “everywhere but here?” Our minds will frequently take us to visit the past or to wonder about the future. The demands of modern life often have us on a tight schedule with many things to keep track of. We find ourselves racing about, multitasking, unaware of what’s happening around us, hearing without listening and incessantly checking our electronic devices, smartphones, tablets, and social media sites. Our modern-day culture grooms us to multitask, go and do, to accomplish, to be productive. We need to be able to accomplish goals and meet deadlines, but it’s easy to suddenly find ourselves in overdrive and overwhelm.
MindFULness is a way to approach life. It’s a lens through which you can view, approach, and experience the world which is distinctly different from our common default mode of autopilot.
To be mindful is to come to the senses and to purposely become fully aware of all that this present moment can offer.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction pioneer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as the following:
“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment by moment, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”
We can talk about it, discuss it, and think about it, but the only way to really benefit from it is to PRACTICE it.
You can return to the present moment any time you become aware that you are being mindless. Gently nudge your awareness back to your breathing and then to what your senses notice is happening around you right now.
What do you see?
Can you describe it without labeling or judging?
What are the sounds that you notice?
Describe every detail that you can.
Notice, just notice without the need to change the experience you are having. Just accept it for what it is and notice all that there is. You are right here right now at this moment. Notice all that this moment can offer. Notice your internal experience of thoughts, bodily sensations, and any emotions arising. There is no need to attach to any of these sensations or experiences. Simply notice them as they arise. You can pretend that you are on a train and your experiences are scenery that you’re passing by. Notice these experiences as they come and go.
Contrary to how it may seem, mindfulness practice is not necessarily conducive to relaxation. In fact, practicing mindfulness can help us to feel more awake, aware, alert, and present to the here and now and all that it can offer.
As you become adept at the practice of mindfulness, you will likely begin to notice how you are conditioned to label experiences as good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant, or otherwise. How often we narrate our sensory experiences and judge them! We are deeply conditioned to do this. It feels counterintuitive to simply sit and notice. We have difficulty valuing an activity if we are not producing a result of some kind. It’s difficult to know the benefits of a mindfulness practice if you’ve not tried it for yourself.
It is important to be compassionate with yourself as you begin a mindfulness practice or try it for the first time, as it is so different from our common approach to life.
What are the benefits of mindfulness practice? You can practice mindfulness at any time. Any time you become aware that you are not being mindful, simply embrace that awareness. Mindfulness can help to calm the stress response and to help us feel a bit more grounded and at ease, which can in turn help us to approach our lives in a more clear-headed and even-tempered manner. Mindfulness practice alone will not likely cure anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, but they can help to provide a framework through which you can begin to address these issues in therapy. For more information about mindfulness, visit the website www.mindful.org.