What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not only a hot topic in our culture today; it is a fantastic tool that anyone can utilize to gain immeasurable benefits. Many people equate mindfulness to meditation. This is accurate and inaccurate at the same time. Mindfulness is a large umbrella concept, meditation does fall under the umbrella; however so do many other techniques. Mindfulness is merely choosing to focus all of your attention on one thing, one task, or one thought.
Under the mindfulness umbrella, there are two main techniques:
- Focusing your attention ON something or some task.
- Clearing your mind
Frequent feedback that I get is that the first type of mindfulness is easier. In our culture, focusing on something is much more acceptable than focusing on nothing. There is a judgment that focusing on something is still accomplishing something, while clearing your mind is a “waste of time”.
Focusing on SOMETHIING can take almost any form: purposeful conversations with eye contact and no cell phones, choosing to read a book with limited distractions, painting, doing a puzzle, breathing techniques, body scan, yoga, fully throwing yourself into a sport or exercise etc. The goal is that you control your attention as opposed to blowing through the breeze at its mercy. When being mindful, you may notice distracting thoughts or urges; however you choose to let them pass.
Clearing your mind may indeed be more difficult; however the benefits are life changing. What I hear most often is that it’s weird or the people don’t “know how” to do it. Clearing you mind can happen in many forms. Zen mindfulness suggests sitting upright and comfortable in a meditation position. The only goal is to sit upright and still. Thoughts will rise and fall, we don’t judge or cling to them if possible. Sitting periods can be anywhere from 60 seconds to hours at a time. There are of course other ways to meditate: prayer, reciting mantras, contemplating an issue, chanting, listening to classical or calming music etc.
So why should you buy into this? Because it works! I will admit I was a skeptic at first. I thought people would make fun of me or judge me (and perhaps they do…). I didn’t think I could “make time”…I was too busy! I began practicing as to not be a hypocrite. The benefits I experienced are right in line with the numerous studies out there and include: boosted mood, mental clarity, improved ability to problem solve, increased feeling of connection, increased wisdom, improved productivity, optimism, and confidence to name a few.
I urge you to give it a try. Start with stopping several times per day to intentionally focus your attention on the task at hand. If you are walking, walk. Feel the knee swing through, the weight transfer from foot to foot, and stop ruminating. If you are working, work. Stop multi-tasking, pay attention to the ink on the paper, to your fingers on the keyboard, to the voice on the phone. If you are watching TV, watch TV. Stop eating, stop folding laundry, put your phone down and just watch TV.
Once you feel confident in your ability to control your attention in those ways, begin several times per day to stop and breathe. Just stop what you are doing and take 10 deep, slow breaths. Center yourself, and then carry on with the task at hand.
Finally, intentionally choose to block out time in your day to practice a formal sitting meditation practice. Whether 5 minutes or 50 minutes, just take time to sit and be still. What have you got to lose?