I know that mindfulness is a word and concept that has saturated the popular media in the last few years. There are apps, books, and courses all designed to provide the latest zen solution to our lives of stress, worry, and the general busy-ness that is pervasive in our modern world.
I admit that for a long time I equated mindfulness with an image of a monk sitting cross legged on a pillow, eyes closed and mind free of all thought. I was sure of two things: my fast-paced life was not in sync with spending time this way, and, even if I found the time, with my anxiety, there was no way I could ever “empty my mind.” I concluded that mindfulness practices were simply not for me.
It was only when I began doing a little research into mindfulness that I started to change my understanding of what it really meant. According to Jon Kabat-Zin, mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Nowhere in this definition was there a requirement to strike the lotus pose. Similarly, the need to empty one’s mind of all its content was not necessary. I delved a bit deeper and discovered a host of benefits that had been determined through solid research practices: mindfulness had been found to slow down automatic responses; reduce stress; provide for a stronger immune system; and generally improve mental health. I decided that mindfulness required a second look.
Despite its recent popularity, mindfulness is far from a new concept; it has been a part of Eastern philosophy for thousands of years. However, with the growth of the field of positive psychology, mindfulness has been introduced as a scientific practice supporting improved health and wellbeing. It has also been developed as part of mental health treatments such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
With a better understanding of mindfulness, I realized that there was no one “right” way to practice. I was not required to sit silently nor to have an empty mind; the idea wasn’t to clear my mind, but to be aware of my thoughts, acknowledge them, and then, simply let them go. There was no pass/fail criteria and I was able to determine a my own method. For me, mindfulness was – and is – about slowing down.
It wasn’t an easy process and it did take me some time to let myself simply “be” with all that my “monkey mind” threw at me. I found that I preferred to practice my mindfulness “on the go;” that is, I learned to incorporate my mindful practice into my daily activities. Sometimes it was when I was out walking when I would become aware of the birds singing, the perfume of the lilac bushes, the feel of the wind through my hair. Occasionally I would stop and just appreciate the beauty of the moment. Other times I would recognize the stress of the moment, identify the emotion, and engage in a quiet few minutes of breathing, a grounding exercise, or a guided loving kindness meditation to bring me back to balance.
I am grateful to have discovered mindfulness in my life. It is a practice that I recommend to everyone moving through this wildly exciting, stressful, and beautiful world. For those who need a little support getting started, there are many resources available (many that are free) that will guide you through an assortment of activities until you find the one that works for you.
Do you have a favourite mindfulness site or activity? Share your experiences on my Facebook page: Fabulous Feats or Tweet out your practice using #FabFeats #Mindfulness