Mindfulness at its core means Being in the Moment, or Being in the Now, as the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has described it. This means we recognize that the past has already happened, the future doesn’t yet exist, and the only thing that IS, is the present moment. Unfortunately, much of the time, our minds are so preoccupied with past events or what may happen in the future, that we forget to be present. The result of this is that we don’t fully experience our lives. Another effect is that when we’re not fully focusing on the present moment and seeing it clearly—but instead being affected or influenced by past events or fear of future outcomes—we end up distorting reality. Our view of a situation today may in fact be a reaction to the buildup of past experiences, which is coloring our current perception and causing us to react or act in a way that may be detrimental to us or others.
Being Mindful and developing a mindfulness practice delivers many benefits:
- Mindfulness allows you to by-pass the pitfalls of our conscious and subconscious brain activity that seeks to cause stress and anxiety in our lives.
- Mindfulness removes the filters of our perception that have become clouded by memories, fears, and resentment. When we strip those away and perceive only what is right in front of us at the present moment, things become much clearer.
- Mindfulness heightens your experience of the physical world, it even makes time seem to move slower. You understand more, because you allow more of what’s actually there to come into your awareness.
- Mindfulness allows us to contemplate and understand where our habits are coming from and why. It opens up the pathway to renewal and new ways of being.
- Mindfulness leads us into asking the question – ‘Why?’. As we focus, concentrate, and comprehend things that were hidden behind jumbled thoughts, clarity naturally emerges and what we took at face value previously, no longer seems sufficient.
- As we become more mindful, we realize the power of our thoughts. Our thoughts are constantly creating and manifesting our physical reality. When we start to master mindfulness, we become more intentional about our thoughts. We regain control of our minds, and in so doing, our lives.
Mindfulness and meditation are often coupled together, even as a phrase – “Mindful Meditation”. It is in fact meditation, that allows us to strengthen our ability to be mindful. At its core, meditation teaches us how to still our mind, to let go of our thoughts, and to stay centered. Andrew Olendzki in Unlimiting Mind says:
Meditation can be understood as an intentional action of paying attention, of being present with, or of otherwise choosing to be aware of what is arising and passing away in the field of experience. Even if one is trying not to direct the mind too much, as in the proverbial ‘choiceless awareness’, there is nevertheless a specific intention to attend carefully to whatever arises.” In fact, as you improve your meditation practice, you will naturally become more mindful when you are not meditating and you will be more easily able to focus your mind and attention at will.
Mindfulness makes all the tools that are part of the Think Smarter philosophy work better. The more we see things as they truly are, stripped away of any distorting effects, the better we synthesize information, make decisions, and see the connections between the various systems we are part of. An example that those with children will relate to is the following: We may grow exasperated that we have to repeatedly tell a child how to do something correctly. The child may not understand, or not be willing to see things your way, or you may not be skillful enough at explaining how to do the task in question. So the next time the opportunity comes up to explain how to do the activity, you’ll likely come at it with the built-up frustration of all the past attempts, impacting your judgment of how the child still hasn’t learned it. But this time is a new moment, the current moment. If you approach the situation irritated by the previous encounters, you’ll continue to struggle and so will the child, because you’re not fully engaged in the present. Your view of the current situation is being biased by past experiences. Perhaps at this moment the child has learned some of the things you want to get across and now needs a varied approach to bring him across the goal line. If you’re mindful and fully present, you’ll calmly recognize this, and in your patience, you’ll be able to provide the necessary teaching in a new way. Overall, the heart of mindfulness is experiencing things as they truly are. What gets in our way of achieving this is our stray thoughts. Our mental chatter, judgements, and labeling of various sense perception clouds our vision and understanding. Training ourselves to quiet the mind, and focusing on the situation or task at hand develops the capability to experience reality at a much deeper level. In our current 21st century environment of multitasking, non-stop distraction, and ever present stress, developing this skill is vitally important for improving our mental and physical health. So, how can we become more mindful?
How do you develop mindfulness:
1. Focus completely on what you are doing at the present moment.
In your day to day chores, in sports, or in your work, when you are completely immersed in the task at hand, you are mindful and have entered the Flow. Thich Nhat Hanh even describes the benefits of simply washing dishes with a mindful approach: “The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped around here and there on the waves.” – from The Miracle of Mindfulness
2. Embrace Silence
This has always been difficult for me personally as I love music and enjoy having it with me always. But over the last couple of years I have come to embrace periods of silence. It is during the quiet (both internally and externally) that we are most connected to the universal consciousness. This is where insight and intuition arises and where our powers of observation are the highest.
When the night is still, you can hear the silence. When the mind is still, listen to the silence and let it guide you. – Zen saying
3. Observe without Thought and Judgement
It’s amazing how much we don’t see, don’t hear, and don’t feel when we are not being mindful. Try this simple experiment, next time you are driving on a familiar route, heighten your attention and your field of view, and see what you notice that you had not seen during previous trips. I assure you, there will be many things on your list. The more we pay attention, the deeper our understanding. From not jumping to quick conclusions about situations or people to everyday current events. Mindfulness increases the information we take in, the more information, the better our understanding.
4. Accept the Present Moment
Much of our suffering arises due to disturbances in our moment to moment existence. Someone is angry, a dog is barking, irritating news reaches us via email, etc. Many times, our reaction to those events is less about the actual event than our state of mind at the time of the occurrence. When we are calm, centered, and peaceful, then even unpleasant things will affect us less severely. And, we tend to be more peaceful, when our minds are not distracted by unpleasant thoughts of the past or future that may be bothering us. We are present, in the moment, calm, and happy. So, when a disturbance does arise, we are able to be less reactive, and stay mindful and calmly observe the new moment that has arisen. We accept it, don’t judge it, but take it for what it truly is – an impermanent phenomena that will pass. When we meditate, we learn to do this with the thoughts that arise and look to distract us or cause us discomfort – we observe them arising, and then push them along, out of our perception, and return to our calm, clear state. The more we practice meditation, the more we are able to be non-reactive throughout all moments of our day.
Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without clinging to it or rejecting it. There are three ways, I think, to understand the purpose of mindfulness practice…The first way is to see how it leads to wisdom. As a person is increasingly able to stay alert and balanced from moment to moment, the fundamental truths of life will present themselves as insight…The second way to understand how practice works is that the very practice itself de-conditions the mind from its habitual pattern of running from discomfort…The third way is to think of mindfulness practice as freedom, rather than leading to freedom. Any moment of clarity undisturbed by the tension of judging or preferring, rejecting, or desiring, is a moment of freedom. – Sylvia Boorstein, It’s Easier Than You Think, The Buddhist Way to Happiness
5. Express Gratitude
The act of being grateful, immediately creates a mindful experience. We focus in on the object of our gratitude of course, but we also get in touch with what is important to us, our values, and embrace our experience. Expressing gratitude throughout our day may be one of the most powerful things we can do, for what we focus on with emotion, we attract more of into our lives. When we are in a deep state of gratitude, we tend to eliminate distraction and enter into a deeper state of connection with what we are grateful for. It’s a nice place to be.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. – Melody Beattie
A state of thankfulness allows us to see the interconnectedness of all things and lessens the grip of the ego. Gratitude can lead to feelings of love, appreciation, generosity, and compassion. All things our society could benefit from having more of. Overall, being Mindful is like living life in High Definition. Once you start viewing life with that level of resolution, you won’t want to go back. Jay Kshatri www.ThinkSmarterWorld.com Resources to Explore:
- GPS of the Mind, by Sylvia Boorstein in Shambhala Sun – http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4137&Itemid=0
- To learn the basics of meditation, visit http://www.how-to-meditate.org
- See my previous post on Effortless Meditation – http://www.thinksmarterworld.com/2013/11/19/effortless-meditation-2/
- For an introduction to meditation, see chapter four in Think Smarter in a Digitally Enabled World: A 21st Century Life Manual for Amplifying Your Knowledge, Achieving Your Potential & Changing the World
- Mindful Magazine – http://www.mindful.org
- Unlimiting Mind – by Andrew Olendzki