What is Mindfulness?

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Photo Credit: Ruth Kao Barr / Mindfulness

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness Can Be Confusing

Mindfulness is a buzzword with growing popularity in the mainstream media as well as in our daily lives. What comes up for you when you see the word “mindfulness”?

Do you think Yoda?

Do you think of someone sat crossed legged in meditation?

Do words such as “zen,” “calm,” “peace” float across your mind in word bubbles?

Does the image of the statue “The Thinker” appear?

Are you reminded of a teacher who once said, “you need to be more mindful”?

The truth is, many of us are not clear on the term “mindfulness” so we apply what we loosely associate with the word to our understanding. For many of us, this means we do not truly understand; therefore, we do not consciously practice mindfulness.

While it sounds like the “right” thing to do, it remains an elusive state that is not a priority.

I’m a Virgo, so they say I can be practical and grounded. What I do know is that I have an appetite to know and understand. So, let’s explore mindfulness together…

Exploring Mindfulness

To understand mindfulness, let’s explore what it’s NOT first.

What’s the opposite of mindfulness?

It’s mindlessness.

What are some descriptions of mindlessness?

  • Autopilot
  • Unaware
  • Numb
  • Bored

Do any of these descriptions remind you of areas in your life?

Think about it. Is there a commonality between areas in your life where you feel a state of mindlessness?

When I’m in a state of mindlessness, I’m focused on either the past or the future. My attention is on the history or a past situation that’s already occurred rather than the present moment. Or, I’m focused on a desired outcome in the future that makes this moment dull in comparison. Of course, this is an illusion since the past and the future are only in our minds. The only reality is the present moment.

Why Do We Want to Be Mindful?

Ultimately, when we are stuck in mindlessness, it robs us of our joy, creativity, and happiness in the now.

Ruminating on the past can often create a sense of regret, and worrying about the future can create a lot of anxiety – because the outcome is out of our control.

This happens all the time and to everyone. Don’t judge yourself when you find yourself to be in a state of mindlessness. You’re human, so your mind is built for autopilot sometimes.

Awareness is a powerful first step to shifting your attention. Mindfulness is paying our attention to the here, the now, the present, and in the moment.

Contrary to what the name suggests, being “mindful” is NOT being in the mind with our thoughts, but in our body – where we’re experiencing and sensing what’s going on right in front of us. (Side note: Eckhart Tolle uses the term “presence” in replacement for “mindfulness” for this exact reason.)

Beginner’s Guide to Practicing Mindfulness

In true Virgo fashion, here are some tactical ways you can begin shifting from mindlessness to mindfulness:

1. Notice new things
You might walk or drive the same path to work or school every day and it’s easy to zone out. Try noticing what’s different about today’s experience. The people you see along the way, the newly formed buds in the trees and flowers, the weather and how it interacts with people and nature… what makes today’s experience unique?

2. Notice your emotions
This is your inner compass. Do not ignore it. Check your emotions often throughout the day. How are you feeling at this present moment? Your emotions tell you how near or far away you are from your truth. Being aware allows you to make conscious decisions relative to your truth.

For example, if you are feeling unsettled. Ask yourself “why?” Was it a hurtful conversation you had with a loved one recently? Is it feeling ill-prepared for a commitment you made later in the week? Your emotions will guide you to actions that will bring you closer to your truth. Do you need to ask for forgiveness or express your hurt feelings with your loved one? Are you taking on too much and need to reprioritize your commitments?

If you push through the day/week/month without pausing to reflect, you are on autopilot and probably numbing yourself. This unawareness disempowers you to be in the driver seat of your own life.

3. Notice your sensations

Pay attention to all of your senses. Our busy lives are so good at distracting us from sensing and being humans sometimes.

Multi-tasking often in an overscheduled day is the worst culprit for robbing us of our human experience and putting us into a robotic autopilot mode.

Try some things to reconnect with your senses:

  • Savor the flavors, smells, temperature, texture, colors of the food
  • Notice sensations in your body before, during, and after you eat your meal
  • Sit and listen and fully experience a piece of music (while doing nothing else)
  • Intentionally move your body and notice how you feel with different movements
  • Go outside for a walk and notice the different smells you can differentiate
  • Admire and notice all of the gradients of colors in a plant, garden, sunset, sea
  • Find the softest patch of fur on an animal, if you have a pet (on one of my cats, it’s behind the ears, on the other is behind her feet)
  • Notice how different fabrics feel on your body and against your bare skin
  • Turn the water cold a few seconds at the end of your shower and notice what the change in temperature does to your body

4. Do things differently
How many of us are engaged in a long-term job/relationship/hobby? It’s human nature to get bored of the same things after months/years/decades. So, make it different! Ask yourself, how might I do this differently today? Often that’s how creativity and innovation are born.

How might you experiment with your tried and true recipe? How might you solve that problem you’ve solved 100 times before in a different way? How could you express your love and affection for your partner in a way that you haven’t before?

5. Focus on the now
Very simply put, when we are focused on anything else but experiencing the now, we rob ourselves of our life. The past is gone – dwelling on it can breed comparison, lack, regret, and shame. The future is an illusion – focused on outcomes of the future which are out of our control, can create unnecessary anxiety and stress. The only thing that is real is the present. It is only by focusing on what you want to do in this moment that defines who you are and can bring you fulfillment. Read this to learn how to be happier in any moment. 

What does mindfulness mean to you? I would love to hear your comments.

Love this topic? Read why presence is the portal to your happiness and wellbeing.

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