You’re reading a book, and you have to re-read the same paragraph once, even twice, because you’re not focused. You just can’t quit thinking about what you said to a friend yesterday, and wish you could take it back.
You hear them call your name, then say, “What do you think?” And you realize you haven’t been listening to your child, your partner, or to others during a meeting. What they said a minute ago reminded you of something else, and your mind took a trip down memory lane. You’re forced to say, “Sorry, could you repeat that?” So, they do, tersely.
You set something by the front door, so you’ll remember to take it with you to work. As you pull out of the driveway, or into the parking space at the office, you realize you forgot it. You were thinking about your busy calendar when you rushed out the door, and walked right past it. Immediately, you think, “How could I be so absent minded?”
Do any, or all of these, sound familiar? We call it running on auto-pilot, because it’s like a plane flying without anyone at the controls. We’ve all done it. It’s natural. It is the way our minds work. But, there is something that can help. There is a way to improve your focus—by practicing and cultivating mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means becoming more aware of what’s going on—right here, right now. We can appreciate our lives, instead of rushing through them, always trying to get somewhere else. Being mindful can also help us to be less swept away by our powerful, habitual currents of thought and emotion, which can manifest as stress, depression, negative thinking, anxiety, anger, resentment or self-doubt. ~ Tessa Watt
Although mindfulness is not something that can be understood by reading or sharing definitions, or explanations, to help convey the concept, I encourage you to watch this 4-1/2 minute video entitled, “What is Mindfulness.” It does a good job providing a simple, clear overview.
So, stated succinctly, mindfulness (also known as “Contact with the Present Moment”) is being fully connected and engaged in whatever we’re doing and experiencing, while it is happening. But, no matter how simple or thorough the description, to really begin to understand mindfulness and reap its long list of rewards, we must practice it, and experience it for ourselves.
There are 2 ways to practice mindfulness:
- Formal Practice, often known as meditation
- Informal Practice, which we’ll light-heartedly refer to as practicing while doing “everything else.”
First, let’s say a little about what we mean by “informal practice.” It is simply paying attention to any activity that you’re doing, while you’re doing it, and noticing the experience fully, with each of your senses. For example, while brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or driving your car, ask yourself:
- What do I hear?
- What physical sensations do I feel?
- What am I thinking?
This 2-1/2 minute video entitled, “A Beautiful Summer Day” nicely demonstrates an informal practice of mindfulness.
Now, for a formal practice, here’s a 10-minute Guided Mindfulness Meditation, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and a creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Studies show that practicing mindfulness formally and informally daily, or on a regular basis, has many benefits. In an article by the American Psychological Association, “What are the benefits of mindfulness” they list the following:
- Stress reduction
- Reduced rumination
- Boosts to working memory
- Less emotional reactivity
- More cognitive flexibility
- Relationship satisfaction
- Fear modulation
- Numerous physical health benefits
- Improved sense of well-being
- Reduction in psychological distress
So, if you haven’t already done so, I invite you to try mindfulness for yourself. And if you come to cherish it as much as I do, you may choose to give it as gift to yourself every day as an act of self-love. Then, you too may “Sit. Feast on your life.” as Derek Walcott describes in his poem, Love After Love:
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.