What is Mindfulness?
First, we should address the fact that “mindfulness” isn’t a new concept. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve practiced it at some point in your life. Psychologists, religious leaders, personal gurus, and your hippie neighbor next-door have been spouting the benefits of mindfulness for millennia. Mindfulness goes by many names: awareness, awakening, zen, at peace, etc… The list is endless. All of these practices and concepts are part of a huge cross-cultural movement. Now, question is, what is it? That’s not a simple question because it’s different for everyone, but to put it simply, mindfulness is the practice of living in the moment and bring grounded in the universe around you.
How Does it Work?
Have you ever been told to “live in the world, but not of the world”? How about the phrase “stop and smell the roses”? Have you ever been given the advice to “close your eyes, and take a deep breathe”? Chances are, when you were angry, upset, or stressed someone had given you advice to help “ground” you. When you feel out of control, slowing down is the best way to regain your balance. Because we live in a world that’s moving faster than ever, we often feel lost and left behind, but we don’t have to feel that way for long. Mindfulness is about slowing down and re-connecting to the universe. Whether it is by taking a breathe to quiet a frantic voice in your head, spending hours in deep mediation, or by praying to a deity to bring you peace– the calm you feel when you slow down is mindfulness at work. Basically, mindfulness works by pressing pause on the outside world, so you can take a break.
How Do I Do It?
I am not an expert on mindfulness. I am not a religious leader, guru, psychologist, spiritualist, or even a hippie neighbor. I’m far from being “zen”. In fact, I am usually an anxious, depressed mess. It is by practicing small acts of mindfulness each day that I’m overcoming my mental health to live a happier and healthier life. Here’s how:
1. I keep a Journal
If you have read any of my other blog posts you know I am big on journals. I carry a notebook with me at all times. This journal is filled with random thoughts, ideas, and questions I have. I’ve filled it with my daily activities, my goals, my anxieties, and observations. There is a mess of lists, bullets, poems, notes, stories, and traditional journaling. Admittedly, this obsession with writing doesn’t work for everyone, but for me this constant notation is comforting. I feel that by writing things down I have grasped the concept and let it go again. In this way, my journal has become part of my mindfulness routine.
2. I Use Grounding Techniques
It’s easy to overwhelmed with all the pressure we put on ourselves and other’s to succeed. With work, school, finances, relationships, family, and everything else we have to do, it’s too easy to be carried away by the chaos. This is why grounding is important. Here are a few easy grounding techniques I use:
-Deep Breathing: All deep breathing is, is closing your eyes and taking a deep breathe in through your nose, holding it, then exhaling through your mouth. It is incredible how just a few deep breathes make the ground under your feet feel solid.
-5-Senses: When I can’t shake my concerns about the future, I focus on the now. I’ve learned is to look around the name something I can see, something I can hear, something I can feel, then taste, and smell. The 5-senses approach forces me to focus on things around me in the moment instead of worrying about the future.
–Self-Talk: Yes, I do mean talking to myself. Sometimes the only way to really know what is happening in my head is to literally ask myself what’s wrong. “Why are you anxious?” “Why is this bothering you?” “What can I do about it?” By asking myself these question and forcing myself to answer them like I would another person I can help myself pinpoint the problem and solve it, or tell myself to calm down and breathe. Don’t dismiss the person talking to themselves. They may be giving themselves some quality advice.
3. I drown Out My Anxieties
Some worries can help us succeed. When we worry about things within our control, we can use that pressure to get things done. Alternatively, there are anxieties about things we can’t control. And it’s the anxieties we can’t control, the ones that grow and mutate into obsessions that we need to stomp out. I drown mine out with positive sound.
Sometimes the positive sounds I use to drown out my anxieties is literal. I will listen to music, watch my favorite t.v. shows, or turn on an ambient noise app to push out the voices in my head. Other times, my positive sounds are metaphorical. I’ll read a book or blog-post, think about things that make me happy, or look at art that makes me smile. By filling my mind with positive noise instead of stewing in the negative, I can drown out the things that bog me down.
After all, if I can’t do anything about it, why should I dwell on it?
4. I Appreciate the Little Things
It’s easy to recognize the few big things that impact our lives, but it’s the millions of small things that create our every day. When we are having a bad day those millions of little things that went wrong suddenly feel huge, but what about on good days? Surprisingly, we are ready to dismiss extraordinary little things as being unimportant when those are the moments that make life great. As a result of this tendency, I’ve made it a point to myself to consciously think about the little things that make me happy.
For the record, I know this sounds cheesy, but I try to think “wow, this is beautiful” as often as I can. I have seen a thousand sunsets, and a dozen rainbows, but I try to appreciate each one as if they are something new and unseen. Furthermore, I don’t just tell myself something is beautiful. I try to share it. If I like someone’s shoes, I make a point of telling them. If I hear something funny, I share it. Sharing the little things that make me happy with others makes those little moments even more special. If only for a second, I’ve brought someone else into the mindful moment with me.
Why Does It Matter?
In a way, none of this matters. You can live your entire life without ever being in the moment. You can, but I wouldn’t. Think about the last time you were truly happy. I can almost guarantee you that in that moment you weren’t thinking about anything else expect whatever it was that made you smile or laugh. All that matter when you are happy or at peace is that moment or space you are in. Basically, that feeling of completeness and belonging in the moment is what mindfulness is. Why does it matter? Because we cannot be balanced or healthy without it. There are million ways to define mindfulness and million ways to practice it. We all find our own small ways to live in the moment, and that’s how we survive in this crazy world.