Can I just start with a personal comment? I love mindfulness. It makes me happy and I believe it makes me a better person. I know mindfulness is a hot trend right now. I see signs for mindfulness classes or mindfulness-based yoga classes or deals everywhere. But when you get down to it, it’s not difficult to see why everyone is touting it’s benefits! Mindfulness can increase self awareness and bring equanimity into your life. It’s been used effectively and successfully in schools to help children regulate emotions, as well as in prison systems to help inmates do…pretty much the same thing. In addition to increasing awareness and equanimity, mindfulness can also increase mental alertness and clarity, stability, acceptance, and sense of ease. Just being more aware of your own emotions and triggers alone can be incredibly healing! But really, what does it actually mean to be mindful?
Mindfulness has different definitions depending on who you ask and when you ask it. I noticed that whenever I try and give a very quick one-liner about mindfulness, I’m leaving out a lot. In general though, it means to be fully aware of the present moment, noticing what’s happening right here right now. It means getting out of our heads and thoughts, and back into the body and its environment. I notice with many of my clients who suffer from depression and anxiety, a big factor of their illness is that they find themselves stuck in their heads. When I say that we are “stuck” in our heads, I mean that we are usually thinking about something other than what is happening right now. We are either worrying, pondering, or even planning about the future or replaying, repenting, or trying to understand the past. Even in conversation, we are often talking about something that’s already happened, or may happen. Thinking in this way can distance us from ourselves because who are we if not the people we are in this moment? We are truly only alive in this very moment, and most of us aren’t very connected to our current experience. But what is the experience of this moment? Can you take a nonjudgemental stance? Step away from what your mind says, and step into your sensory experience.
I like to go through each of the senses, one at a time, and make a mental note of any particular sensations, thoughts, memories, etc that arise. Let’s do it together. Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes (this helps keep distractions to a minimum). Allow your focus to come to your body’s physical sensations. Let’s start with sense of touch. What do your clothes feel like on your skin? Or the sunlight? Or the seat beneath you. Right now, I feel the cool air from the air-conditioning on my skin and I am aware of that cooling sensation on my skin. Linger on the sensation non-judgmentally and just try to focus on that feeling for a few moments. I also notice that my heart is beating hard and my chest feels tight. I’m aware of the physical sensation of stress and anxiety. I make a mental note of it, unattached to it’s reason, the sensation itself, or its implications. We must be like scientists who are simply observing and taking notes on their research experiment. “Hmm…I noticed that…”, I say to myself.
What did you notice? Repeat the procedure for the smell sense. What do you notice? Then repeat for sense of sound…and sight…and sense of taste (even if you aren’t eating anything). What have you noticed?
The more that you practice mindfulness, the more pleasure you experience in every moment. Ever heard the phrase ‘stop and smell the roses’? Most people aren’t mindful about things like smelling the roses, because the rose becomes a background fixture. However, when we become mindful, we begin to understand the presence of such small things. And then we will slowly begin notice the roses…and then its charms and beauty, and soon we may even want to indulge in smelling its sweet perfume. The joy in such a small thing knows no bounds when you are fully aware—mindful—of it. Try it out for 5 minutes today, and if you continue to do it daily, increase or decrease the time to what you feel is right. Keep a journal to write down all of your observations. It would be interesting to see what you’ve learned about yourself. Please let me know what your experiences are down below in the comments!