The importance of mental health is increasingly coming to the forefront of people’s minds. And with this, so is the attention to mindfulness. New scientific findings continually confirm the effectiveness of mindfulness in helping to reduce stress and boost health and happiness. So what exactly is mindfulness and how can you bring it into your days so you can feel more peace regardless of what goes on in your life?
Mindfulness is the practice of coming fully into the present moment. It’s a way of experiencing life as it is without resistance. While we would like to think otherwise, a lot of the stress and tension we feel in our lives is self-induced. When we resist what is, we feel disempowered. Through mindfulness, that resistance can melt away as we learn to be more accepting while also taking more responsibility for our own happiness.
Whether your intention is to not get stressed so easily, to be more focused, or to be kinder to yourself or others, mindfulness is a great tool. And the best part? It’s designed to be brought into the most ordinary parts of your life. Yes - that includes doing the dishes, knocking out an important work project, or getting the kids ready for school in the morning.
Does the word mindfulness conjure up images of people sitting in the lotus position on a mountain top? It’s time to rethink that. You probably practice mindfulness throughout your days more often than you know. You just don’t label it as such.
Whenever you find yourself fully present and unclouded by your mind’s judgements and limiting beliefs, you are being mindful. Every time you slow down to smell a flower, to fully listen to your partner or friend, or to gaze up at the night sky in awe, you become present. You are experiencing life purely - as it is. You may even forget all those worrisome thoughts that bothered you just a few minutes ago.
When you bring your attention to this moment, you are redirecting it away from anxious and stressful thoughts about the past or future. Your body receives a signal that you are ok. Your nervous system calms down. Your brain stops releasing stress-related neurochemicals that can eventually wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Without even being aware of it, these moments of relaxation, awe, or wonder help boost your well-being.
“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
Meditation is the tool that can help you practice mindfulness amidst daily life. It strengthens your ability to direct your attention to the present moment without getting caught up in your thoughts, worries, and emotions.
Mindfulness takes meditation beyond the cushion. It is a way of bringing the benefits of practicing meditation into everything you do – from getting ready for work in the morning, to creative projects, parenting, or relationships.
Meditation trains your mind to slow down so that you can actually experience each of these “ordinary” moments more fully. Although it may sometimes seem impossible to get your mind to quiet down, even this is part of the mindfulness practice. Every time you notice that your mind is not present, you are experiencing a moment of presence – even if it only lasts a few seconds. You are strengthening the skill of directing your mind’s attention at will.
Meditation helps you see your own thoughts and attitudes without getting swept away by them. You may notice how so many of those limiting mental habits (hello self-doubt or inner critic) seem to almost arise on their own.
As you get familiar with the landscape of your mind, you discover that you can actually let the mental chatter play out without it disrupting your peace. You become present enough to choose a new thought about yourself or about a situation that’s causing you stress.
Consider how being more present can shift your relationship with yourself and others. Instead of putting yourself down when you make a mistake, for example, you can learn to pause and change your own self talk – without letting that inner critic affect your behavior. Rather than mindlessly lashing out at whoever happens to be near when you’re feeling overwhelmed (your colleagues, partner, friend or that customer service rep), you can take a mindful pause and notice your instinctive reaction. You can then respond with more kindness and compassion even in difficult times.
Here are the nine attitudes of mindfulness according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction programs that are used throughout the world.
Consider how you can practice each of them in meditation – so you can then take them off the cushion into your life! You will notice that as you start strengthening one, others will naturally follow.
Patience: not rushing towards something else in hopes of a better future, letting things take their natural course without pushing too hard.
Non-striving: not letting your happiness depend on external circumstances; releasing the need to control outcomes.
Letting go: letting go of the need for this moment to be something other than what it is; letting go of expectations and attachments to our ideas of how things “should” be.
Non-judging: not labeling things as “good” or bad; seeing how frequently our judgements about what is happening lead to our own pain. This includes not judging yourself for your own judgements!
Acceptance: embracing the moment as it presents itself without a need for it to be different. Not resisting what is.
Beginner’s mind: seeing things through fresh eyes; learning to love being the student of life and the constant process of your own unfolding.
Trust: trusting that there is a higher order to things, an intelligence that knows how to keep your breath going and your heart beating. This includes trusting in yourself and your ability to navigate through life regardless of what happens.
Gratitude: using the power of your attention to focus on all that is already good in your life rather than ruminating on what could go wrong.
Generosity: understanding that you have so many treasures inside of you to give to the world and being willing to share them with others. This includes being generous with your smiles, your kindness, your humor, your love, and your natural talents.
Next time you meditate, see if you can bring one of these concepts into your meditation. Notice how just sitting quietly can stir up the opposite attitude sometimes. When you feel impatient for example, think about the benefits of practicing patience. Notice the impatience...realize that you are the one noticing it - and that one is at peace.
When you come out of your meditation, set the intention to bring this attitude into your day. It may not be easy at first but that’s why both mindfulness and meditation are a practice…to be done consistently for best results.
If you’d like to start a meditation practice but don’t know where to begin, our ultimate meditation course for beginners is now available on-demand! Get calm and centered in just 10 days filled with great insights, guided meditations, and daily journal prompts. Stop waiting for peace to come to you and learn how to find it within. Learn how to meditate today.