Mindfulness is having awareness of the present moment. It is something to be practiced. The result overtime is experiencing less suffering and more joy in your life. Simply put, savor each moment as if it were your last.
What Mindfulness does
Once you start practicing mindfulness you will start to notice many interesting things in your life….
- You are less likely to react negatively to emotionally charged situations.
- You will start to transform pain into healing and darkness into light.
- You will create an awareness that enables you act instead of react.
- You will start to think about what you truly want, need or feel, making decisions based on your values instead of temptations or the desire to escape.
- Challenging moments become less intense and no longer consume you.
- Your physical immune system will become strengthened.
- Your relationships will grow stronger.
- Accidents will be prevented.
- Your true nature will start to show unadulterated.
- You will experience more success and joy in your life.
Why Mindfulness works
Your ego is a powerful force. It tries to define you and make you feel like you are a separate entity from the rest of the world. But you are not.
It seeks out ways for us to hide from who we really are, what we really think and what we actually need by finding ways to escape our discomfort. It creates resistance in your mind and forms a hard outer shell that separates you from reality, keeping you in your comfort zone. Only it’s not actually comforting.
In challenging times, you may show emotions of anger, fear or anxiety. These are all emotions that arise from identifying with your ego, or your perceived reality. When you practice mindfulness it is you who is in control of your thoughts instead of your ego.
Do you overeat, drink too much, fight constantly with your spouse, hate your job or stress about your future? Believe it or not these are all things you can change by practicing mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness puts these actions into perspective, forces you to pause and think and allows you to act with intention. The gap that you create in the constant flow of your thoughts enables you to start becoming aware of why you are in these situations and how to make better choices before you do or say something you will regret.
For example, let’s say you had a hard day at work so you come home, prepare dinner, open a bottle of wine and pour yourself a glass. There are several scenarios that could evolve from here. Below are two of them, one being a scenario where you are mindless and one where you are mindful….
A. You turn on the TV plow through your dinner and look up an hour later to realize that the glass of wine you started out with is now an empty bottle. You start to feel ashamed and regretful knowing that tomorrow you are probably going to have a headache, which is not going to make your day any easier than today was.
B. You swirl the wine in your glass inhaling the aroma of the wine taking small sips throughout your meal savoring the nuances of that particular varietal and enjoy the feeling of getting a slight buzz. Once the meal is over you put a cork in the bottle and save the rest for another night feeling satisfied and happy. With a clear head you go to bed thinking tomorrow is a new day.
Scenario B is a good example of participating in an activity mindfully. The actions are deliberate, done with intention and executed using value based decisions. You are completely aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Alternatively, scenario A is a good example of a mindless act. When you react, like eating or drinking on autopilot, instead of acting with intention it is because you are seeking a particular result. This result usually comes in the form of a quick fix that you think will bring you comfort. Since the decision was not based on your values you end up feeling regret, shame or angry with yourself instead of comforted. When you don’t get the result you were hoping for you start to experience more suffering than what you originally started with.
How to practice mindfulness
Observe your thoughts and actions as they are. Do not let them define who you are or let them turn into bad habits. Instead become curious as to why you have certain thoughts or do the things you do. To find out who you really are all you have to do is sit back and watch.
There are many ways to do this such as……
- Meditation – Sit with yourself and experience what is. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them without judgement and let them pass.
- Yoga – A moving meditation. Notice your breath and how you attempt each pose. Are you holding your breath? Are you clenching? Are you angry that you can’t get the pose down perfectly? Yoga can be a perfect metaphor for how you live your life. Do you tense up and judge yourself when it gets hard or do you treat yourself with compassion and know that you are perfect just the way you are?
- Live in the present moment – Give your attention to what you are doing instead of thinking about the result you want to achieve. You do this by trying not to dwell on things that have happened in the past or what will happen in the future. Use all of your senses here. What do you see, smell, hear, taste or feel right in this moment? How can you bring more awareness and engagement into your current situation?
- Constantly check in with your body – Do you have a “pit” in your stomach? Are you clenching your jaw or tapping your fingers? These are all feelings that stem from non-acceptance. Your thoughts can materialize in your body. Notice where you feel pain or tightness and try to release any gripping or fidgeting.
- Catch yourself complaining – Next time you find yourself doing this stop and ask yourself, “What action can I take to resolve this issue?” If you cannot find an answer either leave the situation or accept it as it is.
- Breath work – There are many helpful breathing exercises that you can do but simply paying attention to your breath is a great way to start. Next time your thoughts are racing stop and see how you are breathing. You might be breathing fast, or shallow or not at all. Stop and smooth out your breath, breathing deep from your belly and then resume your day.
Use practices like these to gain insight on who you really are and what you really need. Practicing mindfulness all of the time even in ordinary situations, not just when times get tough, is the key to growing the skill. Over time your mindfulness muscle grows stronger enabling you to cope with anything life throws your way. The more you practice the more skilled you become. The more skilled you become the less suffering you endure. This is the magic of mindfulness.
Is mindfulness a practice that you have adopted in your life? If so, what positive results have you noticed so far? Tell us all about it in the comments section. And if you liked this article I invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more health tips, cooking ideas and resources. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The Mindful Meal Challenge by Darya Rose (Summer Tomato)
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Eric Ripert Lessons in Mastery and Mindfulness, The Tim Ferris show
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.