Open yourself up to what’s going on around you.
Mindfulness: noun 1: The quality of state of being conscious or aware of something. 2: A mental state achieve by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
By now, just about everyone knows the term mindfulness.
Even my 9-year-old granddaughter drops “mindfulness” in her conversations. It came up when she shared that one of her friends has social anxiety, but was practicing mindfulness. (That’s just a little insight into what third-graders talk about these days. But, back to the subject at hand.)
After about 15 friends told me I needed to develop a mindfulness practice, I decided my overdeveloped super ego — you know that part of our self talk that’s critical and rejects things that might be really good for us because we often think like rebellious adolescents — was preventing me from experiencing something that could be really beneficial. I don’t know about you, but my default in a situation like this is to either buy a book or take a class. I did both.
Here’s what I discovered. It’s the easiest and the hardest thing in the world to be mindful. The easy part is that you focus on just being in the present. You’re at a red light and you look at the steering wheel. You feel the texture of the steering wheel. You wonder why you never bothered to feel a steering wheel before. Or, you actually look at the clouds, watch the play of the sun across the hood of your car and feel the sensation of the air blowing out of your vents. You are in the moment. You feel alive.
The hard part is that our minds are usually in the middle of a story of our own making.
Why did you yell at your husband last night about some stupid thing you promised you would never yell at him about again? Why can’t you stop doing stupid things? What will happen to your 9-year-old granddaughter when she’s 19? Will they still be decorating — permanently — their skin with tattoos and piercings? All the thoughts, endless and exhausting and you can’t do anything about it. It’s in the past. It’s in the future. You feel anxious. You have no control.
It is refreshing and energizing to open ourselves to the world around us rather than always being preoccupied with our personal stories.
“The holidays are so difficult for many of us,” emailed Gretchen White, a Sarasota psychotherapist and mindfulness guru. “The practice of staying in the present moment — noticing when we get hijacked by thoughts of the past or of the future and returning to our present experience — allows us to calm down and be here now. And now is the only moment that we can experience.”
Be. Here. Now.
If that doesn’t sound appealing enough, there are plenty of scientific, peer-reviewed studies that have demonstrated that mindfulness is beneficial to our physical selves as well. It helps ease that fight-or-flight sensation that opens the floodgate of stress hormones into our system.
And don’t think you need to do a special pose or have your spine lined up with the head chakra or any of the rules for proper meditation posture.
I’ve learned the best way to get into a mindful state is to breathe. The sensation of the breath is a perfect anchor because breathing is in the present. Then pay attention to what is in the present. Happening right now. Use all of your senses.
How does that Christmas cookie look, smell, taste — really taste. I’m betting you’re going to love one cookie, mindfully consumed. Then the three you usually scarfed down will be followed by a mental tirade about the 101 ways you can’t control sweets, your waistline, the gifts you haven’t purchased yet, binging on Hallmark movies, etc, etc.
So breathe. Open yourself up to what’s going on around you. Use your mind to enjoy what is happening in the present.
Note: Here’s the book I used in mindfulness: “Finding Peace in a Frantic World.” Go to booksforbetterliving.com/mindfulness-downloads.