What is mindfulness and how can it benefit us in our daily lives, not as an obscure concept, but as something that improves our personal and professional lives and creates a contented mind.
A Definition Of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment without adding anything or taking anything away.
It’s a way of paying attention without labeling. When we judge a situation that doesn't have what we think it needs, we are in essence adding something to it.
If we wish something did not happen that did, we are in essence trying to take something away.
Mindfulness asks us to do neither, but simply be present to this moment, and use that presence as fuel for the next moment.
It is not to suggest that every moment is going to be beautiful and perfect. Some moments maybe contain pain suffering or endings, but mindfulness asks us to allow them to be what they are.
The way we pay attention is the container in which we experience our lives. The container is essentially empty, which means we ourselves choose what everything means, so the container is our own belief systems.
If we learn to develop a gentle awareness practice, and I emphasize the word gentle, that allows us to begin to be friendlier with the present moment, and that leads to freedom.
That’s what freedom is. Freedom is not the absence of suffering, it’s just a way of paying attention that involves less weighing and measuring. This is good, this is bad, this is terrible this is - I don’t know yet what this is yet, but I hope it’s good! It’s like we run around the world with one of those label guns, and in awareness practice, we agree to put it down for a while and see what we notice.
So, can you accept the moments of anger, fear and worry as guests, be willing to receive them with kindness, without feeling obliged to serve them a five-course meal?
That’s mindfulness in action.
And on the flip side, can you be fully present with all the joy that presents itself, without trying to hold onto it or try to keep it from never changing? As if you could!
I believe every act of love is a work of peace no matter how small. And mindfulness is an act of love towards yourself. And loving yourself, you can love the world as it unfolds for you.
So the first big misunderstanding around present moment awareness practice is that people confuse it with becoming some kind of YES Robot, who just hits the switch and turns off all feelings.
This is a subtle point that is crucial.
It’s an inner practice to be able to accept what shows up in your life as it shows up. We have some kind of believe that because we label everything, it helps us, but most of the time we have no idea what anything even means, and what difference does it make - if it happened to you, how do you know it was supposed to happen?
Because it did.
But still, we like to spend out lives arguing with the present moment, as if arguing with ourselves long enough will somehow change the outcome of something that has already happened.
Now that does not mean you can’t use this present moment in a more constructive way to change something in your life. It means you use the present moment as a stepping stone to create the next moment and as the saying goes, if you take good care of the present, the future will take good care of you,
So let's say something happens to you and you label it as bad, and you ruminate on it. For example: why did this happen to me - it’s not fair, that guy was a jerk, why did he get the promotion or why did my stock go down or why did the dog throw up on my brand new carpet?
With this kind of reaction to the present moment, what happens?
Well two things ...
You have obliterated the present because you are somewhere else, in an imaginary world, where the dog did not throw up on your carpet and your stocks actually went up in value. And this is a really painful world, because it's not true.
I meet people who’ve waste years living in this imaginary world. They argue with everything that shows up for them. They are in almost constant resistance to their own lives. Not only is it futile, it’s the destroyer of happiness and everything you've created, in your work and personal life.
The second point is, how are you creating the future when you are feeling angry and pissed off and wondering why things never work out the way they should?
Well, you're poisoning the future, because when the future arrives, it always arrives as the present, so if you are arguing with what happened you are arguing with the future of everything you are doing NOW.
You are also creating a memory in your consciousness based on resistance, which means you’ll remember it at some future time and play it out all over again. It’s called an energetic thought pattern, and then it becomes a habitual way of showing up.
And as you show up over and over this way you get heavier and heavier energetically, and sometimes even in your body as you add layer after layer of resistance to your life.
Mindfulness practice is about becoming lighter, it’s about not letting anything stick to you and become a concept. It’s a fluid graceful way of being, and it allows you to use all your creative energy to create more beautiful present moments. Mindfulness practice is about facts, not fiction.
Just the facts please, leave the story.
For me, I think of mindfulness like emotional alchemy, where we allow the possibility that our turmoil, our perceived failures, our fears, bewilderment or uncertainty might blossom into insight and wisdom.
Mindfulness is a practice of acceptance so we can practice with everything that show up in our lives. In almost every situation we label as bad there is always the possibility of a transformation, the tree is inherent in the seed but it won’t grow into a tree unless we plant it in the earth, and we can’t be grow our mindfulness practice if we don’t plant it in the earth of our daily lives where we use what comes up for us as the practice itself.
We can’t practice it tomorrow.
There is a wonderful story of two monks, one old and one young walking through the forest. They come to a river, where a young women is standing. She is desperate to get across to see her dying husband and begs the monks to carry her across because she can’t swim.
The young monk ignores her but the old monk silently picks her up. With great effort he puts her on his back and carries her across the river and gently puts her down on the river bank, where in great gratitude she hugs him.
In silence, the monks walk on until night fall, and finally make camp. As they are preparing to meditate, the young monk says very indignantly...
I can’t believe you carried that woman across the river, it is against our injunctions to touch a women. How could you do such a thing?
The old monk looked at the young monk and said gently …
Are you still carrying that women on your back, I left her behind at the river bank?
No judgments, it’s clean - it’s clear, it’s kind, nothing sticks to the old monk. Mindfulness is doing what needs to be done in any given moment and letting it be what it is. Freedom from your own mind.
To embrace all experiences as part of your path by making them the focus of your mindfulness. Instead of seeing a situation in your life as bad or your enemy, mindfulness can turns every enemy into a friend, because all these problems now become a teacher, asking us a very simple question.
How will you react. With love and acceptance or with fear and violence to yourself. Mindfulness is for you, and when you become mindful, you make your world your organization and yourself more peaceful and less reactive.
Awareness practice also asks us to look at what we tend to tune out in our lives. Our lives are a lot like a radio tuner, we often find we listen to the same station - radio fear!
If we repeat a particular act of in-attention over and over again, it becomes automatic, like any other learned habit. While this matters little for the mundane routines of life, the consequences are far greater when those routines are emotionally loaded, such as ways we may behave in relationships.
So we can say mindfulness is the antidote to not repeating the mistakes of the past, and beginning to put the spotlight of our awareness on something that can really support us.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits and actually effect key areas of the brain
A book called How God Changes The Brain talks about the latest neuroscience in relationship to meditation and mindfulness practice.
What did they discover in the brain scans of Buddhist nuns and monks, who spend a great deal of time on the meditation mat. Well, they found decreased activity in the parietal lobe. The parietal lobe is a part of the cortex involved in constructing our sense of self.
When this decreased activity happens, ones sense of self begins to dissolve, so we could say the ego dissolves, which means you become more identified with what you are contemplating, so if you contemplate peace you become more peaceful, you become something bigger than just yourself, and they show that the brain can be changed in as little as 8 weeks … this is pretty exacting stuff.
Modern Organization - Meet Mindfulness
Today’s intense work environments seems inherently unsuited to exercising mindfulness.
In fact, modern working practices have made us all less mindful. In response, bringing mindfulness to an organization can yield an array of positive results, such as:
- Greater productivity
- Higher rates of job satisfaction
- Improved employee health
- An increased sense of purpose and… fewer feelings of isolation and alienation.
- Other benefits :
Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of, practicing mindfulness meditation there were impressive boosts to our immune system’s ability to fight off illness. And we don’t need science to tell us that, we can use our own anecdotal evidence to let us know:
Mindfulness is good for our minds: Studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. New research is showing it may be as effective as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.
Mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.
Mindfulness enhances relationships: mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another.
Mindfulness is good for parents and parents-to-be: Studies suggest it may reduce pregnancy-related anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents. Parents who practice mindfulness report being happier with their parenting skills and their relationship with their kids, and their kids were found to have better social skills.
Mindfulness helps schools: There’s mounting scientific evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems and aggression among students, and improves their happiness levels and ability to pay attention. Teachers trained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, less negative emotion and symptoms of depression, and greater compassion and empathy.
Mindfulness fights obesity: Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight, and helps them savor the food they do eat.
Mindfulness practice is an interesting paradox in one way, because we are using the mind to overcome the mind itself and all of it’s ways it keep us in prison. It’s a bit like hiring a thief ( your ego) who is all dressed up as a policeman, to catch the thief. The policeman will pretend to make a huge effort to catch the thief, give periodic reports of progress, but will fail each time (since the policeman is the thief!)
So mindfulness is asking us to see that the thief and the policeman are the same person. We just have to stop pretending. You can’t pretend in mindfulness, it’s a very bare bones practice where you strip every subterfuge away and see what remains.
So how can we practice these ideas in our lives in simple ways
Lets look at a few ways
One Minute of Mindfulness Breathing
This is an easy mindfulness exercise, and one that you can do anytime throughout the day. Take a moment right now to try this. For the next 60 seconds your task is to focus all your attention on your breathing. I’m going to ring the bell and you will breath in and hold your breath. I will ring the bell and you will breath out. If your mind wanders just gently bring it back to the breath This mindfulness exercise is far more powerful than most people give it credit for.
Keep in mind that this mindfulness exercise is not a contest or a personal challenge. You can’t fail at this exercise, you can only experience it.
Use this exercise many times throughout the day to restore your mind to the present moment and to restore your mind to clarity and peace.
Over time, you can gradually extend the duration of this exercise into longer and longer periods. This exercise is actually the foundation of a correct mindfulness meditation technique. So you might do this first thing upon awakening in the morning or the last thing at night. You can also use a program or app such as time out, where you can set regular intervals. I used it when I was editing films, so the computer screen would gradually dim and I would set a one or two minutes interval to just relax and breath. Incredibly helpful to keep my focus and creativity when I was spending up to 16 hours per day in front of a screen. The breath is a powerful doorway to greater awareness
The doorway practice.
This involves setting up some kind of small ritual for yourself around an entrance in your home or even your office. I’ll share my practice with you.
At our home we have a bell we keep at our bookcase in our hall by the front door. There we have a quote which we might read and then I stop and take a look at the picture of my teacher, in your case it might be a picture of a loved one and then I ring the bell. It’s just bringing the mind to the present moment and remembering that I am about to cross a threshold, meaning I am leaving one world and entering into another, which is a mystery. In fact we take it for granted that we will return, but how do we know that will actually happen. I know that, anything could happen and I may never walk through that door again. I may never gaze upon the picture of my beloved teacher or see my loved ones again. I am living in a mystery. This ritual reminds me of that and helps me enjoy every moment.
So see how something as simple as a doorway can become a reminder to be present in your life. You don’t need a bell or even a picture but it just adds to the ritual. Think about how many doors you walk through each day, each one is a reminder that you can use.
You can use almost anything. A stop light when you are driving.
Throughout the day consciously identify what you are able to appreciate in this moment Consciously identify even the smallest thing that makes you feel good. It could be something about yourself, another person, your environment, or what your body is doing or feeling. What can we appreciate right now and not later in time
We can appreciate anything from the positive, such as having food in our body to something that is absent, such as illness. We are so unconscious even about the moments we love, we become like robots, so when you see a beautiful sunset, stop and mark it. I love that sunset, that makes me feel good, or sharing a meal with a loved one - I love this meal, it tastes so delicious. or if you are like me and live by the ocean, you can walk barefoot and say, this water feels so good, I love being able to walk here and touch the earth with my bare feet and watch the dog swim and jump around. I am healthy and can still do this.
Start making what you appreciate come to life and it becomes a habit.
Taking things and people for granted is a sign of unconscious or automated living. Often we sleepwalk our way through the day, murmuring a barely audible ‘thank you’ for all the gifts we actually do have and love. Notice them, that’s mindfulness.
So there is three simple ways you can practice, and find and create your own rituals that work for you. You don’t need anything complicated , the more you practice the more joy starts oozing out of every atom of your life.
Mindfulness is not thinking, interpreting, or evaluating; it is an awareness practice. It is a nonjudgmental quality of mind which does not anticipate future or memorize past. And the wonderful thing is any activity can be done with mindfulness.
Throughout the day, inwardly pause and become very aware of where you are, what you are doing, and how you are feeling. Try to do this in a way that doesn’t cast value judgments on your experience. For example, if you notice that you are nervous, don’t think “Oh, I’m nervous, that’s so dumb of me…” Simply observe, “nervous, feeling ” without evaluating whether it is good or bad. Just notice
I notice many people have no clue how to take information, ideas, or advice and then apply it effectively to their own lives. I find this often when talking about mindfulness with my clients. The noise of daily life interferes with the signal of what mindfulness could do for them.
It's not about identifying the ways it doesn't fit. It's about looking for the ways it does.
Don't confuse the noise with the signal.