The subject of “mindfulness” is getting a lot of press, which may raise the question, “Where does it fit in my life?”
Mindfulness is being fully aware of where you are and what you’re doing, not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you. The opposite of mindfulness is “absent-mindedness,” autopilot experiences such as driving to work, taking a shower, or eating a meal where the mind wanders.
The skill to be mindful has scientific research to back its effectiveness in at least five areas of daily living:
• Bringing understanding to pain. Pain is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to rule you. Mindfulness can help reshape a relationship with mental and physical pain.
• Allowing better social connections. Ever find yourself staring blankly at a friend, lover, child, with no idea what they’re saying? Mindfulness helps give them full attention.
• Experiencing a lowering of stress as a response. Evidence abounds that excess stress causes illness and can worsen disease states. Mindfulness can decrease your stress which impacts wellness.
• Focusing your mind. It can be frustrating to have your mind stray when you’re being pulled in multiple directions. Mindfulness hones an innate ability to focus.
• Reducing brain chatter. The ever-present voice in your head may seem to never leave you alone. Isn’t it time to give it a little break?
Mindfulness helps by allowing some space between yourself and your reactions, breaking down conditioned responses. Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:
• Set aside some time. Where in your day can you find even one minute to practice being mindful? At that first sip of coffee, as you grab the keys to the car, when you hear the “ding” of the newest social media post on your smart phone — these are spaces to practice a mindful moment.
• Observe the present moment as it is. The goal is to pay attention to the present moment on purpose, without judgment. Observe your breath moving in and out of your body, notice where your body contacts its environment, consider sounds around you — these can help anchor you to the present moment.
• Let your judgments roll by. When you notice judgment arise during your practice (it could be any pleasant or unpleasant thought or feeling), make a mental note of the thought moving through your mind, and let the thought pass on.
• Return to observing the present moment as it is. Your mind can get carried away in thought, that’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
• Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, check resources online such as the nonprofit Mindful organization or the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts; read a book like “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by John Kabat-Zinn or “10% Happier” by Dan Harris, or ask a friend or co-worker about their experience with mindful practices in your community. Your next best moment in life starts now.