One of the first pieces I wrote for this column 3 years ago focused on mindfulness. Since then, there’s been continued growing interest and attention ranging from popular media to parenting to professional disciplines including psychology, education, business, medicine, and more. Many people have heard of mindfulness but are hard-pressed to be able to explain it: being present and connected to whatever moment we’re in and what we’re doing and feeling, without judgment; not thinking about what happened 5 minutes ago or last year and not planning ahead or worrying about the future. For many of us, this requires keen awareness and tremendous discipline to practice and eventually, develop into a way of living.
Let’s face it, as much as we focus on the past and the future, the reality is that we can only live, feel, and experience NOW, in the present. When we are disconnected from our present experiences, we are disconnected from ourselves, and therefore, with one another, from strangers to our most intimate relationships with our friends, our partners, our children. Living more mindfully allows us to be more connected, more compassionate towards others and ourselves, and increasingly able to experience gratitude and put things into perspective when life doesn’t go our way.
I admit, as much as I know about the benefits of mindful living and teach clients how to do so, I know as well as anyone the challenges of balancing “doing” with “being”. My appreciation for sticky notes used to be based strictly on their use for tasks & to do lists but now can also be found with reminders to “Be here now” and “Pay attention now”. Productivity and achievement are highly valued in many of our families, in our workplaces, and society so we are reinforced for doing more, planning more, and focusing on what we could’ve & should’ve done. There is so much anxiety generated in living as what I’ll call a “human doing” rather than a human BEING. Mindfulness can be calming, grounding, and focusing, all helpful in managing and even preventing anxiety. And I see that for many people struggling with depression, one common factor is the judgment of feelings as right or wrong, telling themselves “I should(n’t) feel…” rather than allowing their feelings, reactions, experiences as they happen.
It’s not realistic to think that we can live mindfully 100% of the time, but we can all challenge ourselves to increase the number of moments we are mindfully participating in. You are reading this RIGHT NOW: are you doing something else at the same time? Are you aware of your posture, any sensations in your body? Notice your breathing: is it quick, slow, shallow, deep? What are your senses noticing- sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste? Are you focused solely on THESE WORDS or are you distracted by some other thought or task?
We often don’t realize just how distracted from the present we are until we begin to practice mindfulness. If this is new to you, here are a few exercises to practice regularly:
Take a walk. Notice how your body feels as it moves, your surroundings, your senses, and your emotions in any given moment. When you find yourself distracted by a thought, notice it and bring your attention back to the present moment. You may need to do this repeatedly.
Experience your food. Unfortunately, mindless eating is incredibly common, whether we’re rushing through a meal, engaged in other activities and/or not actually tasting our food, feeling the textures, noticing a feeling of fullness developing.
Focus on doing a task with your full attention. It’s ok to do only one thing at a time!
Be fully present and engaged in conversation with someone. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
There is no shortage of information to be found on mindfulness so I encourage you to learn more. There are also many mindfulness apps available for download. Give yourself the gift of the present.