Mindfulness, three ways.
I hardly feel original for writing about mindfulness. Over the past few years, it's sort of become "The Thing" to consider when seeking greater happiness and peace of mind. Look at all these articles in the New York Times alone! In spite of mindfulness being so popular, I'm certain that it's much more than a fad. The American Psychological Association nicely sums up the benefits of mindfulness here. From personal experience, I can say that the increased contentment and peace gained from mindfulness exercises is real. Let me explain:
First, what is mindfulness? As well-known Buddhist teacher and author Jon Kabat-Zinn said, "Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." It's about being present for our lives instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness is about waking up to our lives, instead of living on auto-pilot.
Here's how it has impacted me... About five years ago, I noticed that I was always thinking about something. And, thinking can very easily and very often slip into worrying. I was stewing over the past or perseverating about the future; in the meantime, the present was passing me by. I was missing the cherry blossoms emerging in the spring, the rainstorms, the light streaming in the windows, the wrinkles around my daughter's eyes when she laughed. I mean, I was there, but I wasn't there. My mind was carrying me away from the present, consumed by thoughts. And then I discovered mindfulness. By being intentional about noticing the present moment, new levels of calmness, clarity, energy, and happiness were possible for me. Sometimes, this involved sitting mediation. More often, it meant just noticing what was going on both around me and in my body. It meant intentionally bringing my awareness away from my veeeery active thoughts and toward my physical experience or toward what was going on in the world around me.
So, how to add mindfulness to your life? Here are three ideas: 1. Do one thing at a time. For example: when you're eating, just eat. Don't eat your cereal while also putting away the dishes and texting your friend (it's possible that I write that out of personal experience). Notice your food. Engage in the experience. Enjoy being alone with your meal, or enjoy the company you keep while you eat. Believe it or not, the food will taste better. 2. Take three deep breaths. Do this twenty times a day. Really! Maybe at first you'll remember to do this once or twice a day, but I've worked up to a place where I do it once or twice an hour. Deep breathing regulates our physical stress response and breaks the cycle of anxious or too-active thoughts. When I take a moment to breathe deeply, it's amazing how much more present, grounded, and calm I feel. It's a simple thing, but it's powerful and the benefits are immediate. 3. Tune into your senses. Set a timer for three minutes, and for those minutes, notice what you hear, taste, feel, smell, and see. Too often, we're tuned out of our daily life; use your senses to tune back in. Eventually, make this a habit throughout your day. Give mindfulness a try. Consider the ideas I've offered here or try an alternative that works for you. Check out this website as a starting place. If you're seeking therapy that integrates mindfulness, reach out; I'd love to connect.