12 years ago, when I took my first mindfulness course, I remember thinking that the teachings were incredible and wishing that this information was known by everyone. It was always evident to me that if everyone would live their lives mindfully, the world would be a much happier place. Shorty after I started my own personal practice of mindfulness and meditation, I knew that I was going to be spending much of my social work career, teaching mindfulness to anyone who care to learn it.
In the last few years, I have noticed an increased interest in the practice of mindfulness or at least, in the use of the word, as it has become quite popular for marketing all kinds of services and even foods. But each time I enter the classroom and ask my students to give me examples of mindful living, many lack the understanding of what that mindful living looks and feels like. So, I would like to, in plain language, address the meaning of mindfulness and mindful living.
What is mindfulness?
The word mindfulness means "awareness". It is the act of paying attention to what you are doing, and releasing the mind from what you did and, what you will do. It sounds complicated and even tedious, however, it is important to note that the practice of mindfulness does not involve stopping the mind from thinking nor does it give one thing and one thing only to think about. It also does not involve adding one more thing to your "healthy to-do habits to implement" for it is much simpler than that. Mindfulness asks that those willing to practice it, engage as many of their 5 senses in each activity that they already do. By engaging your sight, your ears, your smell, your touch and even your taste buds, you create an awareness in the activity that naturally brings your mind into the present moment.
Why would mindfulness want you to engage in the present moment? well, the short answer is; So that you won't miss life. When we are not mindful or aware of what we are doing, we put on the "autopilot mode". That mode allow us to move through life without noticing the places we visit, the conversations we have, the foods we eat, the sounds we are exposed to, the relationships we choose, etc… so before we know it, life comes to and end and all we can think about is; "where did time go?". Living life on the autopilot mode is like paying to watch a movie but arriving to watch only the last 5 minutes of it and feeling that we missed the movie. Rather not miss the movie of your life? well, it is never too late to jump in the train of mindfulness and mindful living, so keep reading!
5 main points for mindful living:
Now that I briefly explained what mindfulness is, let me give you 5 of my favourite points for mindful living. Do not worry, these points are not the magical and only way to be mindful, they are simply my favourite ways to engage in the here and the now, but rest assure that there are many ways to be mindful every day.
The practice of meditation allow us to dive into the present. We focus our attention on the breath, a candle, a sound, etc...whichever object of meditation you choose to focus on, the practice enforces a part of your brain that corresponds to compassion and to the ability to pay attention. The more you engage in the practice of meditation, the more compassion and awareness you build within yourself.
2. Active Listening:
A great way to enjoy a mindful living is by learning to hold space for those who are sharing their word with us. This practice involves not only paying attention to the words that are being said, but also, to the emotions behind the words and, to the language that is unspoken; body language. We do it without thinking of what we are going to say next or, without taking the words shared personally. We simply dedicate all of our attention to the speaker and allow them to express themselves fully.
Bringing awareness to your favourite practice of movement (running, yoga, dancing, skating, etc...) changes the experience and enhances it. Next time you hit the gym or, that activity that you enjoy doing for your physical body, give all of your attention to the activity. Notice how your legs move, notice your balance, your heart rate, follow the breath and lastly feel any feeling that arises as you move. They ket to this point is to engage in an activity that you actually enjoy and then, give it all of you by being fully present.
4. House Chores:
"I love doing house chores" said no one ever!!! Believe it or not, being aware and fully present, can enhance even those activities that no one likes doing (house chores). One of the inevitable side effects of paying attention is that it leaves a sense of enjoyment. Next time you have to do the dishes, laundry or clean the floors, may a point to engage in that activity as many of your 5 senses as possible. What does the soap look like? is it soft? does it have a smell? Notice your movements as you clean, what parts of your body are in contact with the surface? before you know it, the so dredded task will be completed and you realize it wasn't nearly as bad as you thought it would be. Don't believe me? Try it!
Wondering what does eating have to do with mindfulness? Well, there are several benefits about devoting your attention fully to the act of eating. I will mention my favourites:
- When we eat fully aware and not on autopilot, we notice when the mind says that the body has gotten all the nutrients needed. This is important because it stops us from over-eating but also, by eating up to what the body needs, allows for better and faster digestion (something that becomes though when we over or, under eat).
- When we crave foods, we can perceive is the craving is coming as a consequence of an emotion or, as something our body actually needs.
- We enhance the act of eating by appreciating the smell of the food, the texture, the colours, the flavours and even the hands that cooked it!
By practicing mindfulness, you will not only improve the quality of your life and of your relationships, but it will also help you increase patience and compassion towards others but specially, towards yourself. It is a form of brining joy into your journey and seeing amazement even the smallest of things. Do not postpone any longer your appointment with life because believe it or not, life is only happening right here, right now.
From my heart to yours, I want to thank you for reading me and hope you find this article helpful. Should you want to learn more about mindful living, consider taking my "Mindfulness for Every Day” class.