Mindfulness is a concept relatively new to mental health. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of bringing this Eastern-inspired technique to modern clinical settings defines mindfulness this way, “Mindfulness is an awareness of the present moment without attempting to change it or judge it.”
An example of using mindfulness would be me noticing that I am hungry as I sit here typing this blog. I could engage in some self talk, which might sound like this: “You’re already hungry?? You just ate a big lunch, how can you be hungry?” or, “Quick, jump up and have a handful of those cookies you made yesterday. You know you can’t stand it when you’re hungry!” The mindful response is to notice, breathe, and give myself some time and space to respond. First, I consider, am I really hungry? Perhaps I’m a little bored. Or anxious about the report I have to deliver tomorrow. Next, if I am hungry, do I really want the cookies? Perhaps I do. Perhaps I want a cup of tea or a banana instead. Mindfulness helps me slow down and choose what is best for me.
How can you use mindfulness in your life? And how can using mindfulness change your life?
I could write a few thousand words to answer those questions. And for today, I will begin with a few hundred, maybe you will be inspires to use mindfulness in your life.
- Use mindfulness to notice “what is.” Noticing is a very compassionate way to understand yourself without feeling like you must be different from what you are now. In our busy lives we frequently turn our thoughts to what we need to accomplish, or check off the list. We are constantly moving forward. By contrast, we also ruminate, or think about how the past may have been different, which is a recipe for anxiety and distress
- A mindful approach is to notice the thoughts we have about different situations. It is also a way to be fully engaged in the present moment without being distracted by things we have no control over. Really, we only can experience fully the present moment. The past is done, there is never any going back. The future is completely unknown, even though we like to think we control the future. And planning for the future is important. We know we have chores to do and bills to pay, this is part of modern life. And, I suggest, that projecting ourselves too far into the future and wanting to control the future at every turn is mentally and physically exhausting. When you are present, everything is just the way it is. It may suck. It may be wonderful. But you are here to notice and experience.
- After noticing “what is,” see what it is like for you to accept it. This acceptance includes the range of other people’s behavior, your own response, and what your body feels like to notice. This can take some getting used to. We live in a reactive society. We have been programmed to act, to react, to do something! Is it really necessary, or can you take a breath and carefully choose a response? Or to not respond?
- When you can accept what the present moment brings, you have wide range of options for how to respond. Because you have slowed down a bit by noticing what is, you have time and choices to respond. You control only your own choices, and no one else’s (unless you are the parent of small child). This includes your choice of emotion as well as other’s emotions (you cannot control the emotions of a small child). In a strongly stirring moment you may not feel you can control your emotions. That is okay. Just notice your emotions. Notice your body. Experience your emotions in the present moment. Then choose.
- Mindfulness can help you change your life, because you get to fully live it right now! You are here now! Take mindfulness on your morning run, or when folding the laundry or eating ice cream. Really notice what you see, how your body moves, what the cold sweetness feels like on your tongue. These vibrant activities that we often take for granted come alive as we are present to experience them. Being mindful can bring you joy. It can bring you peace from worry and anxiety. It can lead you to yourself and to compassion for yourself. When you develop compassion for yourself, you will also find it for others. If everyone was compassionate toward others what would this world be like?
I walk the mindfulness path each day. Sometimes I also get lost. That’s part of it. If you would like some guidance walking the path, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call at 512-593-0583.