What is mindfulness, why should we care and how do we start?
Last weekend, I attended a talk specifically on the subject of mindfulness at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, scientist, speaker, author of several books on the topic and a pioneer in the meditative approach to treat pain and depression, was the presenter. His accomplishments are impressive and his speaking style was relaxed and… thoughtful.
He spoke about how important it is to be mindful. To take time to notice our thoughts. To pause our racing minds and non-stop inner narration.
There are various definitions and many books on the subject, but here is the basic idea according to Kabat-Zinn.
Mindfulness is paying full attention to the present moment, intentionally, aware, and without judgement or thoughts of past or future moments.
Seems easy, but it’s tricky.
If you’re like me, you’re always rushing around, working as hard and fast as you can, creating two more to-dos for your list for every one you manage to complete and cross off.
We’re trying to do it all.
We’re always rushing. So it’s hard to find time to sit still and it’s even more of a challenge to pause our mental chatter.
And although it’s good to push ourselves to reach for more, according to Kabat-Zinn, we need to find a healthier mix of push and pause if we want to truly experience and enjoy our daily lives.
While we’re busy trying to make something special happen, we often miss that something special is already happening.
Have you ever driven to work or the supermarket and not remembered consciously taking the exit or making the turn?
Have you been running through your day on auto-pilot – just gettin’ ‘er done? I have been, and although I do get things done that way, I admit there isn’t much joy or appreciation to be felt at that speed.
If it’s hard to be mindful and we’re so busy, why bother trying?
Because the moments in our lives are not infinite.
With a limited number of moments in this lifetime, why not find simple ways to enjoy the ever-living stuffing out of more of them?
Those of us over 50 can attest to how a half century seems to have disappeared as quickly as a flash of lightening.
We’ve been so busy that entire decades have passed and we can barely recall any of the amazing experiences we’ve had – never mind remember the smaller pleasures we’ve experienced almost daily.
Appreciation and joy for who we are and the present moment of our lives, however imperfect it may be, can come from moments of intentionally quieting our mind according to mindfulness experts. (Yes, there are many!)
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience. Stress, suffering and addiction can come from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.”- Jon Kabat-Zinn
Kabat-Zinn went on to talk about how practicing mindfulness (and it truly requires practice!) can help us better hear other people’s point of view without all the judgements quickly rushing in. Imagine if politicians were more mindful?
He also explained how important this is for parents and children.
He said mindfulness can help us be in the moment with our children, give them our full attention, and not lose those moments we have together by being distracted.
There were teachers in the audience who got up to speak and shared with the group that they had experimented with teaching their students mindfulness and they noticed the students were significantly calmer and more attentive after those moments of intentionally quiet meditation.
What a profound effect learning mindfulness could be on our kids who are constantly being bombarding with the pressure to measure up!
Gratitude can also help us pause our racing minds and focus on the present moment.
“There are a thousand reasons to kiss the earth in gratitude.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
I agree that it’s challenging (as I am right now thinking of the gazillion things I need to get done today and how I don’t know what’s for dinner and it’s 6pm already.)
Challenging – yes, but if you’re on a quest to live your best life like I am, it’s worth giving it a try.
The first step to mindfulness.
Take a few moments each day to intentionally quiet your mind. Let your thoughts be in the moment, not preoccupied with something that happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow. That’s it! That’s a start to mindfulness!
That felt good, right?
If you’d like to take it further, think about and maybe even write down several reasons you are grateful at any moment in your day. (I’m trying this!) That alone is an exercise in mindfulness – reigning in your thoughts to focus on the present moment and to appreciate what brings you happiness and joy.
“People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as a memory or anticipation in your mind.” – Eckhart Tolle
If learning to practice mindfulness means that we can more fully enjoy the moments of our life as they happen, then I’m all in!
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