“Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” -John Kabatt Zinn
These words have commonly been adopted as the definitive representation of the concept of Mindfulness. I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings on what these words mean to me.
“If someone came in the room right now they would see a collection of people sitting still and doing nothing” a yoga instructor said once during a particularly complex pose “but there is so much more going on within each of you at the moment”
These words show a common concept in our daily lives; we usually have no idea what’s actually going on. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if we acknowledged it, but we usually assume that we have command of all of the details and information of a situation and that what we believe is always correct.
Right now, as you are reading this, there are children playing elsewhere in the world, there are people experiencing joy and laughter yet also pain and sorrow. As you are reading this, the earth is rotating at close to 1,000 miles an hour and traveling around the sun at about sixty times that. In fact, you are rooted to this small sphere of earth and water which holds the only signs of life that we have been able to discern for billions of miles in any direction. You have already been given the most precious gift that has been discovered anywhere in the universe, the gift of life. All around us solar systems are created and destroyed yet here we sit, safe and protected. Try to remember that the next time you’re in traffic.
How often have you felt like life was moving so fast you couldn’t keep up? Have you recently eaten a meal in a hurry, without actually tasting the food? Have you ever gone to do something and after standing up realized you had forgotten what that activity is?
Not to fear, these are all experiences which every human being faces. All of this comes from a lack of awareness. True awareness is so elusive that it evades even the most masterful and experienced. Our goal is to take the time to improve our chances of being aware. Reducing our judgment and eliminate our preconceived ideas.
In the quote above, during the yoga class, the instructor mentions that someone new to the situation would miss essentially everything that is happening. This portrays a common principal of life. Everything we assume is usually wrong. How does this show up in our lives? We cut ourselves off from learning or absorbing anything new. Which means we are limited to what we know and unable to learn or grow.
How to practice being mindful:
Meditation is one of the ways in which we practice mindfulness. Think of it like lifting weights or going for a run. It’s an exercise to strengthen our abilities so that we’ll be more proficient in all of our activities. Except instead of training for a 5k, we’re training to stay aware and present in our lives.
It’s easy to slide into the habit of going through the motions or to accept our routines without really understanding the importance of them or experiencing each moment. We wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed and hop in the car to head to work without ever pausing to reflect and appreciate the moment.
Doing things purposefully means we pour all of our love and attention to the task at hand. When we eat, we can think of the different ingredients, where they come from and how the flavors blend together to complement each other. When we walk, we can appreciate the feeling of the wind or sun on our face, take in the smells and notice the people around us. Remembering the purpose will shift our focus to outcomes instead of activities; focusing instead on the impact and value of what we’re doing instead of getting involved in a series of activities in an effort to look “busy” and therefore “important”.
The present is all we really have. It’s the only time we can love, laugh, react or enjoy. We all spend time thinking about the past or the future but nothing we do can change what has happened or what will happen. All we have is the present moment, and living in it unlocks a world of possibilities.
By tuning into the present moment, we have space to react and enjoy. We will have more meaningful conversations and experiences. We find we have more energy and time when not focusing on worrying or regretting. It doesn’t mean that we go through life unprepared. In fact, quite the opposite, we remain flexible and open to new twists and turns in our journey and can respond faster and more readily.
Eliminating judgment leaves us open to new possibilities. In my life, I have had judgment; towards myself and others, none of it productive. As soon as we start putting our “spin” or perspective on a situation, we begin only to see and experience part of it. This leads to going through life with a clouded view of the world and those in it. Essentially, we’re asleep.
Imagine scraping only a small section of snow off your windshield and then trying to safely drive to work and react to other cars and people on the road. That’s what it’s like to go through life with judgment.
“Change how you look at things and the things you look at change” -Wayne Dyer
Experience each moment:
Life is a journey, we go through it sometimes blazing our own trails and sometimes following those that others have left behind. With each new turn comes new experiences and lessons. If we go through life focusing only on the destination (for example, having a big house or a fancy car) we miss all of life’s enjoyment and experiences. Life is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated.
You have the gift of life, the most precious thing found anywhere in the universe. You have complete freedom to pursue any goal or dream that you have, to enjoy experience in any way you choose. Being mindful turns us from spectators into participants. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, we get to be a part of all this. If you’re reading this I beg you not to waste that gift. Be aware of how precious life is and stay grateful for the opportunity to choose how you experience it. That is what Mindfulness means to me.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do, with your one wild and precious life?” -Mary Oliver