What is it?
Mindfulness is a concept that has been circulating for quite some time, but what is it exactly and how can you incorporate it into your everyday life in a practical and meaningful way? The notion of mindfulness refers to having active, open attention and mental awareness in the present moment. This state is often described as observing one’s inner thoughts and emotions without judging them as good, bad or otherwise. Rather, simply acknowledging the existence of thoughts and emotions, without attaching reactions, interpretation or judgment to them.
Spending inordinate amounts of time analyzing emotions, situations, circumstances, planning, problem-solving, or thinking negative thoughts can be draining both mentally and physically. It can also increase the likelihood of experiencing related stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. Therefore, practicing mindfulness can help redirect attention away from this kind of thinking and instead, allow the mind to engage with the world around you in a positive and accepting way.
How to practice it?
To practice mindfulness, simply devote a few quiet moments each day to focus the mind and be “present.” Observe any thoughts, sounds, smells or emotions you may notice in the moment and encourage the mind to let go of these observations, like passing clouds. The aim is not to turn off thoughts, worries, emotions, etc. The objective is simply to pay attention, without judgment.
Your mind may wander, and this is ok. When you practice paying attention to observing what is going on in your body and mind at the present moment, many thoughts may arise. You may find thoughts drifting to something that happened already, and your mind may even try to be anywhere but where you are now. A busy mind is part of human nature and it offers the opportune moment of mindfulness practice, namely, the moment when you recognize that your mind has wandered. If and when you observe that your thoughts and focus have swayed, you can then consciously choose to let go of the observations that swayed your attention, and focus back on the present moment. The more you do this, the more likely you are to be able to do it again in the future.
Let go of judgment
The other key component to successful mindfulness is to come to the present moment without judgment, rather than being swayed by the inner critic in our heads. When practicing mindfulness, try not to judge yourself for inevitable thoughts as they arise. Notice the thoughts, make a mental note of them, and let them pass. Observe any feelings or emotions these thoughts impart, and let those move on also. It may take several attempts to return your attention to the present moment and it may only last fleetingly and this is okay.
It is also helpful to match mindfulness practice to the breath, using the acts of inhalation and exhalation as guiding force to the present moment. For example, as you inhale, mentally say “let” and as you exhale, mentally say “go.” By repeating the phrase to the breath, it will focus the mind on the moment and help remove distractions. The ultimate goal of practicing mindfulness is to become more cognizant of where you are and what you are doing now, without becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around you.
Allow yourself to become aware of positive and nurturing opportunities and sensations. When practicing mindfulness, you are creating space to think, to breathe, to distance yourself from your reactions. You may never achieve a deep prolonged meditative state of mind, and that is okay. The primary goal of mindfulness is to offer moments solace, peace and mental clarity in an otherwise busy, and highly stimulated life.