When I first began to notice the phenomena, I was working at a restaurant as a server and thinking to myself, “I almost can’t stand another minute of this! I can’t wait to get off work and hang out with my friends. Arrg!” Then later, standing in the club, not connecting with the music or the scene, feeling impatient, slightly agitated, just wanting to go to the next place. That’s when it occurred to me for the first time…a sudden awareness that I was in one moment….wishing I was in the next. As if the next moment would be better…throwing in the towel: on the now.
I’ve found myself hoping some moments would last forever and others would move quickly. I’ve delegated time spent on some tasks (cleaning, exercising, driving, etc) as hours I just get through in order to arrive at a more “quality” stretch. Then there are other instances, where I find myself in a unique, “really present” space, and all at once it seems that this qualifying and quantifying of points in time are nothing but an illusion. That in some way, each moment is valuable…each moment holds a richness because it is actually the only thing going. These experiences brought me to the topic of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on what’s really going on around you and within you…richly attending to this-now-moment. It’s about being with your experience…and discovering the nuances of those ventures. To practice mindfulness is to wash dishes while you are washing dishes. Feeling the water against your hands, the temperature, noticing sensations, smells, and sounds. Perceiving and experiencing whatever is occurring. It’s a kind of “being-ness.” And just as with meditation…when your attention wanders you simply bring yourself back to a present-centered focus on your feeling or sensation. Play it like a game and keep your expectations low. The more often you do it…as with lifting weights in the gym to broaden your strength…you increase your bandwidth for being here now.
There’s something a little funny about the fact that we have to practice at being here now. Well, you don’t have to….so why practice mindfulness?
- Because generally it relives stress. It’s restorative and relaxing. It’s a break, a mini-vacation, a reprieve from the nagging thoughts constantly running through our minds. For this reason, mindfulness is a great help with life-work-balance. It’s an antidote to burnout…it increases resilience.
- Because being here now allows us to be present to the wonderment of life. It’s where we feel the connection between us and the people we love. Cool things happen here and now. Being aware of what is actually going on around you (in contrast with the past/future dialog in your head) is how we actually LIVE.
Think of the most amazing moments in your life….they aren’t likely to be instances alone replaying some concern, fear, or problem. Instead, they are the times when life pulled you deep in and you were one with the experience of it. So practicing mindfulness is a way to encourage these moments and spend more time actually living. This is why dying people recommend it. Apparently, facing death has one get clear about one’s priorities…and folks who have had this type experience consider focusing one’s attention on the present moment to be the way to make the most out of the little life you are given.
- This type of practice can increase a sense of clarity and help you break from old, habitual patterns. It’s not unusual to find ourselves on autopilot and mindfulness breaks through this type of daily trance. If you are making a change in your life, a mindfulness practice is an essential tool.
- Because research has shown that mindfulness can alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including OCD, anxiety, and depression, and increase positive emotions.
- Mindfulness is about being focused on this-now-moment. Because this is the only place we have any real power, this practice can help you have more personal autonomy. We like to think we are the ones calling the shots in our lives, but the way the thinking mind works…jumping from one thought to another…who is really in control when you have little control over where you put your attention? The more we practice focusing our attention…the more influence we have over our choices.
- When we practice focusing on this-now-moment we begin to notice more of the world around us and this means we become more creative, increase our problem solving abilities, and react more effectively to complex situations.
A quick way to jump into this practice is to practice wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Focus your attention on your senses. What can you take in, of the world around you, without any judgment? Simply let it flow over you. Focusing on the felt-sense experience. When your mind wanders, do not become frustrated, as this is normal, instead, bring your attention back to your sensation experience. This includes the feelings in and around your body…stomach grumbling, clothes touching your skin, anything. Smells, sounds, visual information. If you are with someone, experience that. Notice body language. Experiment with what it means to be here now. Instead of thinking about living…LIVE.