Adding a Drop of Mindfulness to Your Day
I think it's accurate to say we spend most of our waking hours fixating on the past or future. We constantly relive painful experiences or construct elaborate scenarios of what we think may happen — even though it rarely does. Rumination brings us untold mental suffering, but despite this, we rarely stop to check our thoughts, feelings, or emotions and instead, follow them blindly.
Thankfully, there is a way out.
The Meaning of Mindfulness
When we stop trudging back to the past or flitting off to the future, we become present in the moment. We start to become aware of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations.
This liberating experience is what people popularly call mindfulness.
Mindfulness is what we do when we pay attention to what is happening in the present moment. We become aware of what thoughts are arising, what we are feeling, what emotions are present, and what sensations we feel in the body. We get a whole moment-by-moment experience that helps calm our minds. Mindfulness allows us to decipher which thoughts are worth following.
Being mindful means looking at our mind in a nonjudgmental way — observing our thoughts with equanimity, not trying to control or suppress them. To achieve this, all we have to do is remain present with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, regardless of whether they happen to be pleasant or unpleasant.
This gives us the chance to reflect before we act — or react. It allows us to look at what is arising in an open, friendly, and more compassionate way. If what is emerging is helpful, we can decide to act upon it. However, if whatever arises is harmful, we can choose to let the thought go.
Gaining Clarity of Mind
When our mind is agitated, it is like a bucket of muddy water. Coming back to the present moment helps this mud settle, allowing us to understand our emotions, and this insight gives us a choice. Clear perceptions push us away from following whatever comes to our mind, which is incredibly liberating and healing.
You may think this sounds wonderful but impossible to do. With all my years of experience as a teacher, I can tell you that it's not. Don't believe me? Then do this little experiment.
Sit quietly with your eyes slightly closed. Now become aware of the sensation as your breath goes in and out of your nostrils. Repeat this five times. Do you know what just happened? You were mindful for a few seconds. Congratulations! When you focused on your breath, you weren't thinking about the past or the future — only the present moment. Of course, becoming truly mindful takes practice, but like everything else, the more we do it, the easier it becomes.
How to Stay Present
Begin slowly and choose small activities of your daily life that you can engage in mindfully. For example, try mindfully cleaning your teeth. Become fully aware of your task and don't allow your thoughts to go off to the past or the future.
Experience what you feel when you hold your toothbrush and squeeze the toothpaste. Focus on the sensation of the toothbrush going up and down in your mouth. Taste the toothpaste on your teeth. Feel your arm moving up and down. Become aware of the sensations in your mouth once you have finished cleaning your teeth. When you do it this way, you may feel like this is the first time you have ever cleaned your teeth, and in a way, it is.
It is the first time you have mindfully cleaned them.
For a deeper practice on staying present in the moment, try this meditation class, Take a Mindful Pause in Your Busy Day, by meditation teacher Alison Hutchens.
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