Life is busy. Most of us have become multi-taskers, rushing through tasks, always planning and thinking about the next thing. But focusing on the future diminishes the experience of the moment.
While “getting something done today so you can relax tomorrow” sounds like a brilliant idea that fuels achievement, it causes you to rush through today’s boringness so you can enjoy tomorrow’s bliss.
But it rarely works that way. Have you noticed… you never get it all done? There’s always more. There will never be a magical time when there’s nothing left to do.
The Benefits of Being Here, Now
Mindfulness is the practice of deliberately focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting the moment as it is.
Many people associate mindfulness with Buddhism, meditation or prayer, but really it’s anything that takes your focus away from your preoccupations and worries.
Mindfulness helps you accept your experiences (including painful emotions) without becoming reactive.
Imagine you’re folding laundry, keeping an eye on the kids, and suddenly you have a rush of anxiety about an upcoming event. Instead of obsessing about it, you focus on the emotion… experience it… let it pass… and calmly turn your attention back to the laundry and the kids.
Practicing mindfulness has many benefits. A few of them are:
- Improves overall well-being. You “stop and smell the roses.” You’re more engaged in what you’re doing and it becomes more interesting. You savor life’s pleasures. You recognize that strong emotions are only temporary passing occurrences. You don’t worry about the future and release the past.
- Improves cognitive functioning. The mind wanders and is easily distracted. When you can concentrate you boost performance and productivity. When you aren’t sidetracked by worry, you’re more open to innovative solutions and it’s easier to retrieve memories. Mindfulness prevents ruminating and boosts creativity. When you’re in a “flow” state, you’re open to “aha” moments that can’t come when you’re ruminating.
- Improves emotional health. Mindfulness decreases depression, emotional eating, relationship issues, anxiety, and substance abuse. With practice you’ll notice which of your mental habits produce suffering that may lead to reactive feel-better behaviors, and which of your mental habits produce well-being. When you’re not as anxious or stressed, you’re less reactive.
- Improves physical health. Stress is the leading cause or contributing factor to all diseases. Stress relief activates the body’s natural self-healing capabilities. Mindfulness reduces blood pressure, improves sleep, reduces the perception/intensity of chronic pain, and helps the digestive system work optimally.
How To Be Here, Now
Practicing mindfulness is easy when you love what you’re doing. If you’ve ever gotten completely lost in a hobby to the point time stood still, you were happily oblivious to distractions and in the flow of creativity, you were fully present.
It’s another thing to practice mindfulness when what you’re doing is boring or stressful. Or…is it?
Here are ways to practice mindfulness with the goal of paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and feelings without judgment. “Without judgment” means you notice what is, without labeling it “good” or “bad.”
- Mindfulness meditation: Sit comfortably and focus on your breath. Anytime your thoughts intrude, notice them, let them go, and bring your attention back to your breath.
- Experience emotions: As a feeling arises, focus on it instead of on the thought that generated it. Experience the emotion fully. It will pass within 90 seconds.
- Engage your senses. Pay attention to sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes. Become more of a sensory creature. Let the moment and the environment engage you, rather than being “in your head.”
- Scan your body. Notice bodily sensations like an itch or a tingle without judgment.
- Be interested in the nuances of what you do. For example, hand-washing dishes: Notice the warmth of the water, the fragrance of the soap, the feel of each dish in your hand, the patterns on your dishes, the shape of your cutlery, the sound of the running water, the feel of the sponge, etc. This can make the most mundane chore interesting!
- Gently bring your attention back. Gently redirect from distraction to presence. As soon as you notice your mind has wandered off and it’s planning, ruminating, judging, or daydreaming, acknowledge it and gently bring your attention back to the moment. Your mind goes… you bring it back. Sometimes you can stay focused for a long time; other times reeling in the monkey mind is a challenge. Your mind will wander, but you don’t have to follow. You don’t have to latch on to your thoughts. Practice observing them as they come, and practice releasing them and bringing your attention back to now.
Go with the Flow
Mindfulness helps you go with the flow of life and experience each moment. Thoughts arise… and go. Emotions bubble up… and pass. Physical sensations come into your awareness… and pass. With practice, mindfulness will bring a profound sense of relaxation and bliss, as well as increased awareness of your habits and any self-destructive patterns.