The basic premise of mindfulness is allowing ourselves to be present to our moment-by-moment experience. Ellen Langer from Harvard University defines mindfulness as “noticing the moment to moment changes around you.” Dr. John Kabbat-Zinn has a definition that I really like which is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Research on the effects of mindfulness practices and meditation demonstrate that the more we turn towards our experience—even when challenging—the less likely we are to suffer and the more likely we are to experience a greater connection to ourselves and others. We cannot possibly understand what others are feeling or attempting to communicate to us when we don’t know what we are feeling and thinking. Also, it is impossible to do either of those things when our mind is reviewing the grocery list, listening to our colleague tell us about a difficult situation they are navigating, and we are typing on our computer.
It is easy to make a case for mindfulness. Yet, when it comes to practicing mindfulness we may be at a loss as how to actually go about it or perhaps feeling like we’ve just added another thing to our already-too-long list.
And herein lies the irony. When we feel too busy to practice mindfulness, this is just the thing that is needed. One of my teachers used to say that if you couldn’t find 10 minutes to meditate, you needed to mediate for two hours.
What to Do:
- Build mindfulness practices into your day: notice the ceiling tiles in your office (I know, you’ve never even looked up there), intentionally notice the landscape that you drive past every day at work. Notice on purpose. Yes, this counts as a mindfulness practice.
- Check in with your body and your body sensations several times a day. We have become a disembodied culture for many reasons. Coming back to our bodies is a great way to get in the present moment.
- Begin a meditation practice. Sit quietly in a nice easy posture and put your attention on your breath. Yes, thoughts will continue to arise. That means you are normal. Just simply return to the breath when this happens. For more on beginning to meditate, check out my favorite teacher’s website.
- Do one thing at a time: I know, I know. This seems impossible. What is true, though, is that you’re not being intentional if you’re attempting to do two things at once (i.e. talk to another person and read a text message). Your greatest purpose is literally whatever you are doing at any one moment. This creates not only greater productivity, but also the experience of flow and true presence.
Lastly, remember that these are practices. You aren’t suddenly going to arrive somewhere and reach your goal of mindfulness. Nevertheless, the more we practice, the more proficient we become at noticing when are mindless. And that in and of itself is the gift.