Simply put, mindfulness is being aware of–paying deep, focused, complete and non-judgmental attention to–whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, whatever’s happening, whether you’re chopping wood and carrying water, tinkering with a car engine, or driving on the freeway. To loosely quote Ram Dass, mindfulness is the ultimate way of Being Here Now.
Although mindfulness is a Buddhist term, the practice of mindfulness has, in some form, been an important part of most religious, shamanic and spiritual traditions for as long as anyone can remember. Simple, ordered monastic or solitary life made it easy and natural. But in this crowded, high-speed age of moment-to-moment multitasking, how is it possible to learn and sustain mindfulness?
These days, we’re so focused on amassing facts and running our lives using left-brained logical analysis that we’ve let our other intelligence, the mysterious, creative and inclusive intelligence of our right brains, languish. This lack is so marked that people who also use their right brains have an extra edge, and mindfulness is one of the best ways to use both hemispheres of your brain equally.
More and more people seem to believe that mindfulness is not only possible, but necessary. It has become an increasingly important psychological component in a wide variety of therapies and is used to facilitate stress reduction, long-term recovery from addiction or depression, and in the treatment of a variety of mental and physical conditions.
Starting Out Right
The easiest time to activate mindfulness is when you begin your day. No multitasking, cell phones, iPod or television broadcasts allowed, not even while you’re exercising!
Instead, concentrate fully, with your mind and all your senses, on each individual step of your morning routine. Don’t plan the day ahead, or think about the squabble last night, just pay attention to what you’re doing. Pay attention to water temperature and fragrances while you wash and brush your teeth. Feel each muscle stretch and twinge as you exercise. Feel the sweat. Breathe in and breathe out with awareness.
When you make coffee and breakfast, be fully aware of each step of preparation and consumption, being aware of smells, textures, colors, tastes. Observe the silence around you and the small sounds as you perform each task.
If the silence and lack of usual morning noise is making you fidget, observe that. If you keep returning to your morning habit of planning your day or worrying about what happened the day before, be aware of that. As Buddhists say, thoughts are just thoughts, with no intrinsic reality. Don’t judge them; just let them be, and continue to focus on your inner and outer experience of the moment.
More Than Meditation
Obviously, mindfulness is an active form of meditation, with all the well-known benefits. But it’s also a powerful, expanded way of being in the “real” world.
Simply pausing to become more fully aware before you start your car in the morning, or before you enter your office, can radically shift the first moments of your experience, and, as a result, the rest of your day.
For example, in both your professional and personal lives, being mindful during conversations can produce remarkable results. Rather than thinking about what you’re going to say next, or running scripts about similar conversations, focus completely on the person who’s talking to you, and let intruding thoughts come and go without giving them the power to interrupt your awareness.
Observe inflections, body language and facial expressions, and listen fully and carefully to what the other person is saying. Be aware of your own reactions and how the surroundings affect both of you. Don’t analyze, because that takes your attention away from what’s happening. You’ll find that you learn and understand far more through this enhanced awareness than you did using intellectual analysis alone.
How can you focus clearly enough to be mindful in a busy office or while driving a carload of kids? It takes a little practice, but if you began your day mindfully, it’s far easier to continue in that expanded, observant state.
Actually, most of us learned a very simple, useful mindfulness technique in kindergarten. Remember “Stop, Look and Listen”? You’ll discover that it’s as effective during high-level negotiations as it was for crossing the street safely.
Observe using each of your five senses.
It only takes seconds, and when you’re through, you’re already way ahead of everyone else in the room!