Let us begin with an analogy, a short story really, to explain what mindfulness is.
A disciple asks his master, who is known to the people of the lands and its rulers for his farsightedness and wisdom:
‘Master, what can I do to be happy? What helps me to go my way, with strength and optimism? What brings me prosperity, love, security, and inner peace?
And the master replies:
‘Pay attention to your feelings without judging them. Every day.
Watch your thoughts, without judging them. Every day.
Watch your actions, without judging them. Every day.
Pay attention to your needs, without judging them. Every day.
Be yourself, and the rest comes by itself.’
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means being aware of ourselves, of our sensations and our environment, of our feelings, thoughts and needs without judging them “right” or “wrong”. It implies acceptance of who we are and how we feel.
Living mindfully is really a way to more happiness and contentment. In the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness has played a key role for thousands of years but it has recently become mainstream in the West, and has even found its way into modern psychotherapy and medicine.
Mindfulness can take the shape of meditation by paying attention to our breath and concentrating on our physical sensations during the practice, but it can also be taken to our everyday life by being more present in every situation we are in.
What is the point of mindfulness?
Mindfulness is one of the most important skills we can practice in and for life, for mindfulness is a miracle weapon against many sufferings. Studies have shown that it is good for our body, our mental wellbeing (including stress-related illnesses, depression and anxiety), and our social relationships.
As you become more aware of yourself, you are able to think and rationalise your present situation without judgment and to find solutions when things look bad or when you are confused. It helps in situations where we feel “separated” from life and our feelings.
Mindfulness gives you the feeling of “being with yourself” and creates a soothing closeness to yourself. As it implies awareness and acceptance, it also helps us to understand ourselves and our issues better. In a way, it’s like understanding how to understand.
Mindfulness brings clarity as we observe ourselves without judgement. We learn a lot about our inner patterns and the connections between our needs, feelings, and thoughts. We often see where and how we make life difficult for ourselves, or we recognize where we always make the same mistake. This is often the first step to provoke true and lasting changes on our life.
A session of mindfulness meditation also helps us to relax. When we only look and feel, without evaluating and separating things into good or bad, we struggle less against others and against ourselves; we automatically smile more often and come a little closer to our much-desired inner peace.
What stands between me and mindfulness?
If mindfulness is such a miracle, why isn’t it part of school programmes? Why don’t we all learn it earlier in life?
We want everything to be better immediately, without having to change anything – a trait that goes against the concept of mindfulness.
The answer is quite simple: because it is a practice that needs longer workout (mentally and perhaps even physically) and usually shows results only after some time. We humans are impatient, we want everything to be better immediately, without having to change anything in our life – a trait that goes against the concept of mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation: how to start quickly and easily
Many people are stressed all day. From very early in the morning, our mind begins to rattle with all the responsibilities that lay ahead in the day. But that can change. If we are careful with our time, we can handle unnecessary stress and live a bit more relaxed. Mindfulness directs us from our head into our bodies. From thinking to feeling.Mindfulness directs us from our head into our bodies. From thinking to feeling. Click To Tweet
Mindfulness meditation is pretty simple and you can start with only 5 minutes a day and gradually increase the length to what suits you better.
- Sit comfortable on a chair or on the floor
- Start with your eyes open, becoming aware of the space that surrounds you
- Take a few deep breaths and only then you can close your eyes
- Focus on your breath and how your body is feeling – its weight against the floor or the chair, how your stomach rises and lowers with each breath; notice of there is any
- area of discomfort, but don’t stay much time there.
- The moment your mind starts wandering, bring it back to your breath.
The objective of mindfulness meditation is not to quiet our minds and get to state of total calm but to pay attention to the present moment, without judging it.
What about mindful living? How do I apply it to everyday situations?
As we said, to be mindful means to be aware, to be present. It means perceiving what is happening here and now in any normal or daily situation, not just during a meditation session. Here’s a simple situation where you can apply it to:
Next time you wash your hands, do it carefully. Keep your focus on the feeling or sensation that the water triggers on your skin.
Concentrate on feeling the temperature of the water, the smell of the soap, the foam, the sounds; keep my thoughts there, on those physical sensations.
If your mind drifts away, let it be. Deal with your thoughts with care, just observing them. Do not let yourself be drawn completely from them, just allow them to come and go, as if they were clouds in the sky, always returning to the physical sensation of the water running through your hands.
Applying it to our feelings
Just as we dealt with the physical sensations we got in our little experiment with our hands and the water, we can handle our feelings carefully. If we are constantly plagued by fear or insecurity, it is to a large extent due to the fact that we are simply letting these feelings overwhelm us instead of taking a step back and just letting them happen.
If we are constantly plagued by fear or insecurity, it is because we are letting these feelings overwhelm us instead of just letting them occur.
We can perceive the feelings on a physical level rather than let ourselves be carried away by them completely. If during a mindful moment you find yourself thinking: “That’s interesting – I feel a slight pressure on my chest and my throat feels a bit cramped,” then this is a careful way to deal with your feelings. You watch them. You allow them to be with you, but you do not let them consume you.
Mindfulness in this context means being stronger with ourselves by focusing our attention on our physical sensations instead of being completely caught up in our mental interpretations of those feelings. Because what really makes us suffer is usually not the feeling in itself but our interpretation of them – as soon as we move the mind from the pure physical expression of a feeling and assign meaning to it, it is when problems begin. And as soon as we really resist and do not want to feel certain feelings, real suffering appears.
Mindfulness, then, can be the key to better deal with your emotions.
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