Inevitably, I often hear “Oh, I couldn’t do that!” when I suggest a practice of mindfulness and meditation. “I could never get my mind to stop!”
There is a misconception that practicing meditation and mindfulness means shutting off the mind from thinking. Nope!
Simply stated, mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment —being aware of what’s happening right now, in this moment, without judgment, without resistance, without a story. Stress and anxiety arise from a story of judgment and resistance.
Mindfulness is not a way to stop the mind from thinking. As a matter of fact, quite the contrary! It’s being aware of our thinking.
Our minds are there for that purpose — to think. And sometimes, that could be a good thing! But more often than not, the thoughts we have are negative and self-destructive. The problem is not with the thoughts. The problem is that we believe them!
We develop a mindfulness practice for the purpose of creating awareness, noticing when our attention has wandered, and recognizing that our thoughts are “just thoughts”. Mindfulness increases focus and self-regulation.
Here are some very easy ways to bring mindfulness into your day.
1. Look for the routines, and create a practice in your daily habits. So, if you shower every day, take a few minutes and be with the experience of showering. Feel the water, the soap, the shampoo. A question I always ask – how many people do you take into the shower with you? Try being in there alone, just you, the water, the soap, the shampoo. Engage your senses. And notice when you’ve let others in! You can do the same while brushing your teeth.
2. Practice mindful eating. Pick one meal or snack. Be present while eating (yes, that means no phone, no computer, no tv). Again, engage your senses while you eat. Count the number of chews for each bite.
3. Take “breathing breaks” throughout the day. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and take a long slow deep breath in, and slowly exhale, being with the experience of the breath in your body. Maybe you feel the coolness of the breath through your nose, or maybe you feel the rise and fall of your belly with each breath. Take 2 or 3 breaths this way. You can set a reminder, or incorporate this practice into your routine. So, for example, if you’re in and out of your car several times throughout the day, do this breathing practice before turning the key. It helps to leave a visual reminder, like a sticky note, in a place where you’ll see it. You don’t even have to write anything on it. When you see the sticky note, you’ll remember why it’s there!
The important thing about starting a mindfulness practice, or any other practice or habit you’d like to create, is to remember the “why”. Why am I doing this? Why is this important to me?
My “why” — I am a much calmer person because of my practice. (I’m no longer dying of every disease highlighted on Grey’s Anatomy.) While I still have negative thoughts that creep in, I no longer get hijacked by them. I’m able to “disconnect” from the ruminating mind. I’m a better parent. I’m a better partner. I’m a better person.
Commit to just a few minutes each day. Keep a log. It will help you stay on track. And remember, have patience. It’s called a “practice” for a reason! Like any other skill, mindfulness must be practiced and cultivated!
I’ve created a 4-session group coaching program, “Using Mindfulness to Manage Stress & Overwhelm“. For more information on this or other mindfulness programs, or to register, call Jo (516) 236-6964.