Mindfulness- what is it full of?

A challenge that continually reappears for my clients and, at times, for myself, is being present in and accepting of the current moment. This includes becoming mindful (yes, the winner of the latest contest in pop psychology) and taking on a nonjudgmental stance.

In short, being mindful is tuning in to the wonders of the world around you. Not the world that was yesterday, an hour ago, or that will be in 3 days or 5 years. It is curiosity of the present moment, as though you’ve never experienced it before- and you haven’t. It is also choosing what you wish to focus on and letting everything else gently be. Everything else could include rampant thoughts, feelings, distractions, mental commentary, memories… let all that be. Unless you are practicing mindfulness of a current feeling or reoccurring thought, which you may be doing, the bottom line is to “simply” note what pops up that is ‘extra’ and then redirect your attention to the matter at hand.

Let’s look at how to get into it and then I’ll provide a more concrete example. Attempt to observe (just notice) and describe (just factually state) whatever is before you that you are intending to become mindful of (thoughts, feelings, body sensations, an experience that you are having through one of your five senses). Do this in a manner that is more in lines with reality and less with your interpretation or judgments. Observe only what is there and describe it as though you were speaking to someone who had no idea what it was like and no understanding of opinions. Be specific and self-oriented. “Today is the worst day ever” becomes “I feel frustrated right now because I am thinking that my partner does not value me after he did not get me flowers for my birthday.”

*Try out the following: Pick a place that you enjoy visiting and arrive there. A spot in your room, the beach, your parents house, a park. Now sit with yourself- put your phone away- and take a few breaths to fully arrive where you are. Your intention is to be present in this space at this moment in time and accept whatever comes along with that.Use your senses, however many are available, to start observing the scene. What does this place look like? Maybe you’ve been here 100 times but what does it look like? Notice any sounds. Maybe touch something. Take a sniff. Feel. As you observe start to note, purely factually, what you are taking in. Now what about all of those internal things going on? What about your grumbling belly, racing thoughts, irritation? What about all of the distractions? How can I observe and describe when there is a child screaming, my light is flickering, my phone starts to vibrate? Simply note all of that, refrain from judging yourself, and redirect your focus to the exercise.*

Great! So- It makes sense that mindfulness is a practice that mental health professionals and meditation and yoga teachers are drawn to because it has various psychological and emotional benefits. If you have never been in counseling, you may have heard it in yoga: Waking up from corpse pose or savasana, observe and explore the movement of your fingers and toes as though you have never done it before. Taking a comfortable seat, orient to this moment in time. This is not the same seat as the one that you took at the start of class. See how it is different, see how you are different.

Essentially, mindfulness can help to make our experiences fresh, moments novel, keep our mind engaged, allow us to feel more fully. Focus on what we choose to focus on. Control our minds. Refrain from harping on the past (ruminating) and worrying about the future (anxiety-provoking).

The future is not here and the past is gone! We must remember things, yes. We must plan ahead, yes. But be here now, live now. Then choose when you reminisce and when you dream. Be present with yourself, with your children, with the person in front of you pouring your coffee. Try to accept whatever is there. Even if it is not in lines with your values, expectations, worldview. That is how you tolerate. That is how you make meaning. That is how you access wellness. That is how you connect. And that is how you begin the practice of mindfulness.

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