Do you remember John Lennon singing about how life is what happens while we are busy making other plans? Perhaps he was proposing we choose mindful living over our inclinations to live on auto pilot.
In our frenzied world, more of us are becoming aware of how little peace of mind we have. We run ourselves ragged after that dreaded to-do list we often don’t realize how we got from point A to point B. The World Health Organization warns us that by 2020, depression will be the second-leading cause of disability in the world, just behind cardiovascular disease and anxiety disorders are also on the rise. There seems to be no end to our rushing as a lifestyle. But we know something needs to change.
“Mindfulness” has become a trendy buzzword found all over the Internet. If you Google it you get thousands of hits. But it’s much more than a trend. It works to bring peace to our busy minds and lives, and it has done this for centuries. It’s a way of living in each moment.
I told you last week that there is scientific evidence that mindful living let you enjoy a wide array of physical, emotional, and psychological benefits that are truly life changing. And before that we agreed that it would be nice to escape our to-do list. But I have not as yet defined mindfulness.
What Mindfulness is not
Understanding what mindfulness is not is as important as understanding what it is. What mindfulness is and is not is misinterpreted to a great extent. I’d like to set the record straight before I dive into the definition of mindfulness.
- A religion— although it originates from Buddhism it non-religious andno-one owns mindfulness. It is not inherently mystical or spiritual. Mindfulness practices are useful for all people, regardless of their spiritual or religious backgrounds or beliefs.
- Only about meditation—while meditation is an awesome and extremely powerful way to practice mindfulness, it is not the only way of becoming more mindful. Mindfulness isn’t a synonym for meditation. There are many ways to practice mindfulness.
- About being perfect—there’s no way to do mindfulness “wrong.” It isn't a technique. Mindfulness isn't something you do. It's a way of being. Being mindful goes back to the idea of living in this moment and the way you are experiencing it.
- A spectator’s sport—even though being present is a simple concept, it’s not easy to do. It takes consistent attention to notice where our minds are throughout the day. Mindfulness is a practice for the entire of life.
- About stopping your mind from thinking—this is impossible! It isn't about emptying our mind. Minds create thoughts, it's what they're made for, and our mind keeps on generating them even if we do happen to be meditating. Rather than “clearing the mind,” practicing mindfulness means being aware of what your mind is thinking about and bringing it back to the present moment when it’s lost in the past or future.
- About escaping—quite the opposite, when practicing mindfulness, we turn towards our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to consider them with great gentleness and a sense of curiosity. Doing this enables us to watch our thoughts without blame or worry and builds our self-awareness, which makes dealing with problems easier. It is always good to remind ourselves that thoughts are just that... thoughts.
- Time-intensive—as mentioned before, practicing mindfulness is a continuous objective. To live mindfully doesn’t require you to set aside a great deal of time. A mindful practice is about doing things on purpose, even if they are sometimes at a fast pace.You will practice it in each moment as you go about your life. No need to go live in a cave or ashram either.
- For a chosen few—mindfulness is available for everyone at any time. There’s no certain type of person who finds it more helpful or easier. If you are breathing, you can practice being present.
What Is Mindfulness then?
Mindfulness is very simple. It means being aware of where you are and what you are doing and thinking in each moment. It’s paying attention, on purpose, to what’s going on for us right now. Whether you are taking a shower, talking to your spouse, playing with your kids, working on a project or simply doing nothing.
But mindfulness involves one further step—the practice of non-judgment.
Non-judgment is fundamental to experiencing the deeper benefits of a daily mindfulness practice. It requires that you pay close attention to your feelings, thoughts, actions and sensations in the body, without labeling them as right or wrong, good or bad.
Sounds simple, right? However, it’s not always easy. Our mind relentlessly goes back into the past, often to fret or brood, or going into the future, frequently to worry.
Most of us have families, careers, responsibilities, and goals. Your life, like mine, is most likely very active and busy. By now you have developed several routines that will clash directly with the practice of mindfulness.
In the time it took you to read that short paragraph you may have thought about many things. What to make for dinner, that you need a dentist appointment, worrying about your bank balance, etc. etc.
This type of “stream of consciousness” thinking happens over and over, all day long.
And that’s okay. Being present or practicing mindfulness isn’t about judging ourselves harshly for thinking about the past or future. The aim is to gently bring our mind back whenever we notice it has wandered to somewhere other than what we are currently experiencing, without being exceedingly reactive.Practicing being present allows us to respond rather than react. To slow down and appreciate the daily wonders all around us and to be with whatever emotions we are experiencing, instead of giving into overwhelm. Practicing mindfulness allows us to experience and enjoy our lives fully.
Today, right now, is a new moment you have never lived through before. If you can’t pause and see that, you really reduce your possibilities for the future. This moment is happening for the first time. It is bursting with potential. If you are trapped by your beliefs and worries about the past, you end up reacting to your life instead of living it. However, by paying attention to the present moment, you can notice when your mind is trapped in the past or future. That is where mindfulness comes in.
Although this may sound airy-fairy, there are time-tested techniques we can use to encourage our minds to remain present and mindful. These techniques are not difficult, require no special equipment, and you can do many of them anywhere, anytime. But we will start diving into them next week. For now, consider being present a worthwhile pursuit. After all, you’re busy, and you don’t want to add one more thing to your life unless it’s going to help you live a much happier, healthier life!
This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy.This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.