Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of remaining present in the current moment. It is the ability to recognize and acknowledge feelings or emotions without judgement. It may sound simple, but when was the last time you were fully aware of what was going on around you? Or more importantly, how it made you feel. When was the last time you were fully content?
We all lead busy lives. In fact, most of us would say our lives are too busy. We can’t stay present in the moment because so many other things require our attention. Even when we are performing routine tasks, our minds move to the next thing. We make weekend plans while preparing dinner instead of thinking about what we are cooking. During the conference call we check email and twitter feeds. While commuting we strategize for tomorrow’s staff meeting. This type of behavior may make us feel more productive, but in reality we often end the day feeling less than satisfied with what we accomplished because we are not fully connected to what we have been doing.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice, and almost all civilizations or religions feature some form of it. Some call it meditation. Others call it prayer. But it comes down to the ability to be quiet within ourselves and focus on the present moment. It seems like that should be an easy thing to do, but we all know just how difficult it can be.
Mindfulness is becoming more important today than ever before as our world becomes more and more complicated. As technology pushes us to react faster and faster, it becomes easier and easier to lose the moment at hand and rush toward the future. By acting mindfully we can actually find enjoyment and satisfaction in the daily grind without fear of suffering burn out.
There are physical benefits to mindful behavior as well. Living mindfully can help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, lessen chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and improve digestive issues. It also helps reduce anxiety–an underlying cause of many self-damaging behaviors. Mindfulness also plays a role in increasing happiness and overall satisfaction. And really, isn’t that what most of us are looking for?
One of the most common ways to start a mindfulness practice is to meditate. Begin by sitting quietly, and focus on a natural breathing style. Follow the breath in for three counts, then out for five. Thoughts will intrude and that is okay. Acknowledge them as thoughts, but don’t react to them. Recognize them and let them go. As most people are very uncomfortable being alone with their own thoughts and maintaining a steady focus, begin with a short practice. Five minutes is a good starting point. Work your way up to at least twenty minutes. Studies show it takes the mind at least twenty minutes to settle down. The goal is to be able to slide into a meditative state easily, and to carry that sense of calm and focus into other areas of your life.
The Mindfulness Solution; Everyday Solutions for Everyday Problems, by Ronald D. Siegel, Guilford Press, Nov. 2009