Our culture is abuzz with the benefits of mindfulness meditation and the idea of “meditation for at least 20 minutes a day” as a bare minimum upon which to start your practice. For busy people with busy lives, calming, and ideally quieting your mind for even 10, let alone 20 minutes sounds like a far cry from reality. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support meditating for 20 minutes. But, what if I told you that you could have a mindfulness practice and not ever sit down with your eyes closed trying to explicitly focus on quieting that ever-humming mind of yours? Some purists may scoff at the idea, but there exists a pretty compelling case for everyday mindfulness.
So, what is mindfulness? At its core, mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. Most of us have five senses; being mindful simply means paying attention to those senses. It’s likely that you are already naturally wired to do it. Being focused on the present means that this practice can be extended from sitting in a doctor’s office, to taking a shower and brushing your teeth. In fact, I think our everyday experiences, like enjoying a great song or piece of music, or the smell and taste of a deliciously cooked meal, are perfect opportunities to practice mindfulness. Rather than focusing on “turning off your mind,” try tuning in to the sensation of the water washing over your head, your fingers massaging your scalp, your toothbrush against your teeth, the air coming in contact with your skin. These everyday moments are actually opportunities to focus in on our vast array of sensory experiences, which brings us right into the present, and awaken us to our own experiences.
Mindfulness is a perfectly normal practice, not limited to Buddhists, shamans, researchers, or mental health professionals. It is a simple process, but not necessarily easy, especially if it is new, or your feelings are intense and strong. Cultivating mindfulness is free, and will become easier to develop and more of a habit than our normal state of being distracted.
The flipside of this mind coin is mindlessness, which is just as easy, if not easier than mindfulness. Mindlessness entails being lost in your thoughts, being numbed out or distracted from your surroundings. For example, we have driven to our destination but do not really recall anything about the drive there. Likely we were not paying attention to our sensory experiences on that drive.
Being a commuter and nature-lover, I have in recent years, began to notice all of the beautiful trees that line the 10 freeway through mid-city in LA. This is my favorite time of year for the drive because it is when these beautiful tall trees share their golden yellow blossoms with us.
The human mind has a tendency to become wrapped up in the future or the past. Mindfulness is a way of teaching and allowing ourselves to be more alive and present to what we are experiencing. It is an everyday practice that can also become a way of life.
Upcoming blogs will focus on research about the impact of meditation on the brain and body, as well as how to apply mindfulness to those overwhelming and intense emotions.