“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there's no room for the present at all.” Have you ever felt this way before? Evelyn Waugh captured the feeling so well in this statement. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of indulging in thoughts that act as a poison to our happiness. However, removing these unhealthy thoughts is much easier than you think. The trick is to be mindful.
I know you might be thinking - I don’t have time to sit atop a mountain, crossed legged uttering out “hummmm”.
But allow me to explain: Mindfulness doesn’t require mountains, flexible yogis and “hummms” - unless you want that of course. Mindfulness is a very simple technique that can be done anywhere, anytime. According to Dr. Kabat-Zinn the definition of mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose to the present moment non judgementally.”
Mindfulness is the act of anchoring yourself to the current moment, the only real moment we have. Rather than having life pass you by, mindfulness allows us to slow down and savour each moment. It is purposely paying attention to the present and accepting thoughts that arise, non judgmentally. All that is required from you is focus and self awareness. Focusing your full attention on the present. The feeling of the sun on your back or the taste of a really delicious ice cream cone. When focusing on that present moment you may start to have a wide range thoughts arise in your mind “I have that deadline tomorrow…I wish I was on a beach…I miss my dog”. As you do this try not to act on these thoughts. Let them come and go and watch as they appear then disappear. Imagine having a surveillance camera on your mind, watching thoughts as they arise, not doing anything but simply noticing them. This allows you to come to the understanding that all your thoughts and feelings - good or bad - are simply transient. You are not your thoughts, and not everything you think is the truth.
Once you start practicing being mindful in everyday life you become better and better at it. Similar to working out at the gym, you work out your brain by breaking through pathways that have been created from years of multitasking, worrying over the future and ruminating over the past. When we indulge in regrets, concerns and worries it negatively impacts our mood and daily life. Sometimes leading to depression or substance abuse. Imagine being able to let go of these worries? Imagine how free you’d feel? When we begin to understand that the present moment is the only real moment we have, we can learn to let go of all those other unnecessary thoughts. Slowly toning them down and turning them off. Mindfulness doesn’t mean you can’t think about the future or past, but instead when you do, you do it mindfully instead of mindlessly. Meaning we are aware that our thoughts have gone to the future so instead of feeling sour and stressed and having no idea why, we realize why we feel this way, allowing us to be more in tune with ourselves. This gives us control over our brain by handing us over the reigns. If left alone our mind will engage in an ongoing, often unproductive personal narrative which include mostly irrelevant thoughts.
Mindfulness has been around for many years, William James, considered to be the father of psychology, spoke about its benefits as far back as 1890 saying "The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgement, character, and will. No one is compos sui (master of himself) if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.” It is also a central practice to Buddhism. These days it seems mindfulness has come back into style because of all the advancements in the modern world demanding our attention. We spend countless hours in a virtual world, meticulously planning a perfect instagram photo that will go onto our Facebook newsfeed rather than enjoying the moment for what it is, more than how it will be perceived. Additionally, psychologists and scientists around the world have found how effective practicing mindfulness can be on our overall health, happiness and wellbeing.
So, perhaps you’re asking yourself: what if the present moment is terrible? How could being present be helpful? For example if you are going through a divorce, or lost your job or a close family member has died. How could being connected to that moment possibly be good for you? Wouldn’t it just be better for to escape the pain? The thing is mindfulness isn’t about choosing to connect with only the best moment. It’s about being in the present through the good and the bad. It’s being aware about everything happening, how you’re feeling, and what you are thinking. If we are constantly trying to get away from the pain that life inevitably brings us, we will never fully move on. Some may turn to drugs and alcohol, or be fall into a spiral of depression. Instead of trying to get away from the moment, be there with it. Recognize that you are feeling sad, thats it ok to feel sad and recognize that pain isn’t something you will feel forever. In order to heal, we need to accept. Acceptance is the final process in anything we face in life. Mindfulness brings us to this final step of healing. When things get tough in life we grieve, we struggle, and then we finally accept. Mindfulness is facing the situation right away, positively and constructively. Remembering that we cannot control external events in our lives, but we always have control on how we react.
In a world when everything has become so fast paced, with new phones out that offer everything at the touch of our fingers, it squeezes out room for the present moment. When we learn to live in each moment it changes our relationship with life and people. It provides us with the ability to be more self-accepting rather than self-conscious. It allows us to be receptive rather than reactive and thus less emotionally triggered by external events. When arguments or problems arise we learn to take a step back and react with a more constructive response or reaction. This brings us closer to the people we care about by interrupting any self-sabotaging patterns we’ve adopted throughout our lives. It also allows us to enjoy our life as it happens, being present and aware, moment by moment.
How To Be Mindful:
-Pay attention on Purpose - This involves making a conscious connection to the current moment.
-Pay attention to the Present Moment - whether it’s good or bad, we are there with it.
-Pay attention Non Judgementally - We simply accept whatever arises. We observe it mindfully. We notice it arising, passing through us, and ceasing to exist.
Have more questions on mindfulness?
[cover photo via Flickr]