What is mindfulness?
The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness. It is being on “automatic pilot,” out of touch with our bodies and our experience in the moment. For most of us, our minds are often constantly wandering. We are often quite literally “not here” in the present. And we can be absent in many ways from the best moments of our lives because we are caught up in our thoughts, memories, plans, or feelings.
Mindfulness is moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness. It involves paying careful and detailed attention in the present moment—just noticing and exploring whatever our experience is from one moment to the next, without judging it as positive or negative.
Mindfulness includes just observing:
- Paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judgment.
- Allowing yourself to just “be”—versus always having to “do” something or change circumstances or your experience in some way.
- Objectively observing your experience, and perhaps quietly naming it to yourself (such as “thinking,” “planning,” “remembering,” or “sad,” “happy,” “worried”).
- When your mind wanders, simply bringing it back to your breath or other object of focus and the present moment—again and again.
Formal practices of mindfulness are at the heart of mindfulness meditation—also known as “insight meditation.” Mindfulness meditation enables us to be more grounded in the present moment and develop a greater understanding of our experience and how we relate to it.
One of the benefits of this type of meditation is that we can focus the meditation on the experiences we typically deal with every day. We learn and practice mindfulness meditation by focusing on the breath—but we can also focus the meditation on our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and experiences.
Mindfulness meditation will help you learn and experience nonjudgmental awareness in the moment. Practicing mindfulness in meditation can change the quality of your everyday life by increasing your awareness and your ability to be present and alive in the moment, attuned to all of your experience and the world around you.
You can also practice mindfulness in many ways during your ordinary daily activities. Being mindful of your experience during your activities can be very enriching—and informative. Everyday mindfulness can also help you prevent and decrease stress and other unpleasant experiences.
Try doing ordinary activities “mindfully” as you slow down
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Try doing some of your daily activities mindfully. Consider the activity the most important thing you can do in the moment—and something that deserves your special attention. Slow down and pay attention moment by moment.
Using all of your senses, pay attention to your experience in your body and your mind. What do you see? What do you hear? What scents or smells do you notice? What do you feel with your hands or in other parts of your body? What feelings or moods arise? What thoughts do you notice?
Practicing mindfulness is not to “think about” your experience, but simply to notice your thoughts. As thoughts and feelings arise, note them to yourself, and allow them to change or shift as they will—and gently bring your attention back to the activity at hand, and your direct sensations.
Activities to practice doing mindfully could include:
- Making and drinking tea or coffee mindfully. Notice each step in the process, every sensation and every detail. Drink in slow motion, noticing every aspect of your experience as you sit and enjoy your drink.
- Taking a slow-motion bath or shower. Using all your senses, simply notice and enjoy a warm bath or shower.
- Washing dishes mindfully. Consider washing the dishes to be the most important thing you can do in the moment. Wash them thoroughly, with careful attention to your complete experience.
- Taking a mindful walk. Notice every part of your body and all of your sensory experience as you walk. Notice all of the details in the environment around you—take them in with all of your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, and feel?
- Brushing your hair in slow motion for several minutes, or brushing your teeth mindfully and thoroughly. Pay attention to every detail from start to finish.
- Taking a mindful drive. Notice every thing you do and experience during the drive, including your experiences in your body, your feelings, and your thoughts.
Lifestyle Awareness Training: Do less. Enjoy what you do more. How?
- Just don’t do something. Sit there! Have unscheduled time. Practice slowing down and doing nothing every day. Practice useless gazing. Really, observe the world around you. You will probably feel uncomfortable at first. Choose to act outside of your normal routines.
Notice (be mindful of) what you are doing with each of your daily activities:
When you wake up
As you get ready for work
When you use the toilet
While you brush and floss your teeth
As you wash your hands
When you take out the garbage
Be present as you wash dishes or clean up the kitchen
Notice the sensations as you drink coffee or tea
Be present when you hug someone
Notice how your breakfast and other meals taste
Notice your “hungers”—for food, rest, affection, accomplishment, and nurturing activities
When you go for a walk
While you talk on the phone
As you drive your car
When you grocery shop or do errands
As you turn on the TV—also notice how what you see effects your emotions
Be deeply present as you meet others
When you get sleepy, celebrate your blessings of a comfortable place to lay your head
- Pay attention. Don’t just do your activities on Have a sense of the sacredness of your life. Your life is rich and valuable. Celebrate your wild and precious life!
- Resist rushing. An example from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Present Moment Wonderful Moment (mindfulness verses for every day life) and Peace Is Every Step deal with driving, something that most of us do every day.
For a PDF copy: Mindfulness—Meditation—Slowing Down in Our Daily Lives
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