Can you imagine?
Imagine feeling more peace, presence, and equanimity in the time it takes to read the next few sentences. Imagine possessing the ability to ease feelings of separateness, loneliness, and inertia. Imagine possessing the ability to think more clearly, act more compassionately, and live more fully. Imagine what using this ability – anytime, anywhere – would mean to your well-being and to the well-being of your important relationships.
All of this – and more – is possible with mindfulness.
Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice that has great applicability in our Western lives. A large body of scientific research suggests that mindfulness is of great benefit to our physical and emotional well-being. And it isn’t necessary to don a robe, assume the lotus position, and meditate for hours to practice mindfulness (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What is necessary is the willingness and commitment to keep practicing.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re always thinking. Our heads are stuffed with a never-ending blather of thoughts, fears, impressions, observations, comparisons, and judgments. The blather keeps us on autopilot, thinking and doing with a limited awareness of what we’re thinking and doing.
Living on auto-pilot creates automatic patterns of unhealthy beliefs and behaviors that are driven by reactive emotions and unexamined experiences. These patterns, when unattended, grow stronger and deeper over time, exacerbating our feelings of separateness, loneliness, and inertia in an ever-devolving spiral of helplessness, hopelessness, anger, and grief.
So, how does one practice mindfulness? One way is to follow your breath. The breath is a terrific anchor point for the present as the breath is ever-present. Use the breath to turn inward, to notice the inhalation and exhalation, to feel the sensation of cool air entering your nose and warmer air leaving it. Easy, breezy. No forcing the breath, no convoluted holding between inhale/exhale, no belly vs. chest breathing. You’re just breathing, knowing that you’re breathing, where you are and just as you are. The breath goes in and the breath goes out and you gently notice it. That’s it.
Simple, right? Well, yes and no. What usually happens is we get distracted by the blather in our heads and get swept away until we remember that we’re supposed to be focusing on the breath. Then we spend some time berating ourselves for being swept away and not doing mindfulness “right.” So, we redouble our focus and breathe and here comes the blather again. This will happen a lot, because our blather can be pretty powerful stuff.
It’s all good, though, because being present to the blather reminds us to be present to the beauty. Everyday joys are often overlooked and lost to us amid the blather’s running commentary on what’s wrong with the world, with those people, with that person, with me. Mindful presence allows us to truly experience the joys in a way that helps us to question the reality and usefulness of the blather. And when we choose to disregard the blather and embrace the joys, healing begins.
A mindfulness practice will create a more consciously peaceful way of being in your body, in your life, and in your world. Start with three mindful breaths and see what happens. Whether you’re feeling angry and stressed or excited and joyful, practicing mindfulness will help you be fully present to what’s happening. And when we’re fully present, we can step into accountability.