“Mindfulness” – what image or idea pops into your head as you read this word? Perhaps you think of someone sitting on a cushion, eyes closed, meditating? And, of course, this type of formal practice, where we intentionally take time and dwell with our awareness on a particular anchor (e.g. the breath, bodily sensations, thoughts, …) is very much part of cultivating mindfulness.
According to the founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction programme Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness can be defined as the “awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.
Just like any other skill, mindfulness takes training too; we are training our brain to re-shift attention to the here and now, to step out of the “auto-pilot” mode, time and time again.
Life is your practice
Yet, today, let’s zoom in on informal practice which is just as vital. Feeling the warmth of a cup of tea. Being amazed by the beauty of snowflakes falling from the sky. Going for a walk in the forest and sensing the muddy ground under your shoes. Noticing how angry you get when someone cuts you off in traffic. Appreciating the smile of a loved one. This too is mindfulness.
Noticing and fully living these (ordinary) moments often takes little extra time yet can have a significant impact on our experience and the way we go through life.
By connecting with our direct and moment to moment experience, we can get in touch with what is happening this very moment. This can at times increase the intensity with which we experience things. It can also help us notice that there are actually many things to be appreciated, yet that they often go unnoticed because we are preoccupied with the upcoming meeting, or our schedule, all the to-do’s on our list, taking care of others, etc.
Life really is our practice; it gives us lots of material to practice mindfulness. Sometimes this material is made up of pleasant instances and sometimes it isn’t. Ultimately, your day, your weeks, your years are made up of a multitude of moments. Moments is all we’ve got really.
Worth the challenge
As you are reading this, I encourage you to challenge yourself: can you stop two times during the day, today and tomorrow? Perhaps when something nice is happening take a moment to really savour it. How does it feel in your body? What emotions does it bring up? What thoughts are going through your mind? Really take in this moment. It will not come back.
And on the contrary, noticing when something unpleasant is happening: how does that feel? What makes your experience unpleasant? What types of thoughts occur, which sensations and feelings can you detect?
Can you also allow this experience to be as it is -even unpleasant- without resisting it?
Of course, mindfulness takes practice and let’s be honest, it can be tricky to find the time or sometimes the motivation to train ourselves in this skill. But don’t forget that, without trying to, there are many moments when you can bring more awareness to what is going on or to what you are doing, without necessarily needing to take out extra time.
For instance, food. The meals you are having throughout the day can be excellent opportunities to practice mindfulness. At least twice or three times a day, this is a moment where you can stop, tune your attention inwards and truly savour your food.
Or what about taking a mindful shower? Feeling the sensations of the water on your skin, the smell of the shampoo, the sound of the water dripping down.
Or when you are walking somewhere, notice your surroundings. Can you detect something new or perhaps even something beautiful around you?
This list could go on, think about it, there are certainly some moments in your day that may be worth bringing some extra attention to them.
But also, when you feel that is easier said than done, be aware that there are probably already some moments when you are mindful without necessarily trying.
Let’s also be mindful of (not) being mindful.