By Dave Hood
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. ” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
What is mindfulness? Writer James Baraz writes that “mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” Mindfulness is paying attention, moment to moment, to what is. It is becoming aware of the here and now, noticing what is unfolding with your senses, without judging, in the present moment. Instead of ruminating about past regrets or worrying about future dread, you focus on what is happening “here and now.”In reality, you are really only guaranteed this moment—the next is unknown. You might die in the next moment of life. By living in the now, you can become happier and improve your well-being.
Mindfulness is rooted in the ancient religion, philosophy, spiritual path of Buddhism. It is one of the steps in what Buddhists call the “Noble Eight Fold Path” to awaking or becoming enlightened. In 1979, Jon- Kabat-Zinn incorporated this wisdom into the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. Now, many mental health clinics, hospitals, and mental health professionals around the world use the techniques of mindfulness to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, as well as help people who are suffering cope with illness, disease, and grief. There have also been many books written—which define mindfulness, identify the benefits of mindfulness, and explain how to live mindfully. The Internet is filled with a myriad of blog posts on living mindfully, such as http://www.mindful.org .
Obstacles to Mindfulness
There are many roadblocks to living mindfully. Distraction is a huge obstacle, especially digital technologies, such as the smartphone, tablet, and Internet. Instead of paying attention to life unfolding, people are often lost in thought, texting on their smart phones while driving, or listening to the iPod, crossing the road, as traffic whizzes past.
Another obstacle to mindfulness is time pressure, which forces people to rush through life, without noticing their surroundings, such as the red roses in the garden or cardinal flying past. For instance, People get up in the morning at a certain time, have a shower, get dressed, make lunch, drive and arrive at work by a certain time. They must return phone calls, answer emails, complete projects or work at a particular time. Then they must return home and pick up their children from daycare, then prepare dinner, and find time to relax.
Louis L’Amour once said, “Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.”Worry prevents most people from living mindfully. Instead of enjoying the present moment, a person might worry about paying the rent, losing a job, the outcome of test results, what their children are doing, why a friend is not returning their emails or telephone calls, whether their elderly parent will survive an operation
Other obstacles to living mindfully include overwork, complexity, multitasking, responsibilities, perfectionism, fear, daydreaming, misfortune, failure, adversity, anxiety, illness, and disease. Each in its own way tends to make the person lost in thought.
Given all of the obstacles that get in our way, living mindfully is not easy to achieve. And yet, we should all strive to embrace a life of mindfulness.
Benefits of Living Mindfully
Embracing mindfulness and living mindfully will improve your mental and physical health. Here’s how:
Mental Health Benefits: Mindfulness will increase your pleasure and joy. For instance, you will start to notice the beauty of life. You’ll become aware the simple delights of life, such as the spring flowers blooming in the garden or the blue jay eating from the bird feeder.
It will reduce mental stress and help you cope with anxiety and depression. Instead of worrying about the future or being tormented by the past, you focus on the present moment.
It will enhance your concentration and memory. Instead of being distracted, you’ll focus on the task you are doing. It will contribute to living a calm and peaceful life.
Mindful meditation will calm and clear the stressful thoughts and emotions from your mind. It will provide you with insight into how things really are. Instead of living your life lost in thought, you will begin to realize that everything is impermanent, including our thoughts and emotions.
It will help you become aware of your negative thoughts, which cause you to react with anger or resentment.
Mindfulness will help you focus on things that are important, such as savoring, living in the present, being grateful for what you have, which will help you become happier.
Physical Health Benefits: Living mindfully can improve your physical health in a number of ways. It can relieve physical stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and reduce gastrointestinal problems.
How to Live Mindfully
There are countless things you can do to live mindfully. Begin by simplifying your life. First, focus on what is important, and not urgent. When you wait until something becomes a crisis, the stress will often create stress and anxiety, which distract you from living mindfully—in the here and now. Secondly, do less. Create a manageable to-do list, tasks that you can complete in a reasonable time frame, without feeling pressured or a sense of urgency. This means that you’ll have to schedule “free time” between tasks. Eliminate those activities that are unimportant and distract you from the present moment, such as watching mindless television. Once you’ve simplified your life consider integrating these activities into your life:
- Focus on the present moment-living in the “here and now.” Life unfolds moment by moment. The past is only a memory and the future is unknown. Focus on enjoying the present moment, whether reading, listening to music, gardening, and so forth.
- Stop multi-tasking. Instead, focus on completing one task at a time. It is impossible to live mindfully when your mind most focus on two, three, four different things a once. Not only is multi-tasking stressful, because you must pay attention to several things, it prevents you from fully concentrating on the present task, and so you might make a mistake.
- Learn to savor. It is paying attention slowly and deliberately to sensory pleasures, such as the delicious taste of apple pie and ice cream, or the beautiful sound of music, or watching your children laugh and play in the park.
- Become aware of the sensory details unfolding in your daily experiences. Instead of being lost in thought with worries or deadlines, or distractions of texting on the smart phone, take notice of what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Make a mental note of anything joyful, pleasurable, delightful, awe-inspiring. An easy way to become mindful is to take a walk in a beautiful or delightful place. As you walk, notice the beauty—the sights, the smells, the sounds.
- Spend fifteen minutes or so in solitude. You can take a walk in a quiet place or go to your bedroom, close the door, and become silent. Observe your surroundings with your senses. Become aware of the “here and now.” Solitude will reduce stress, help you unwind, and contribute to peace of mind.
- Practise one-minute mindful breathing whenever you start to feel stressed or frustrated or resentful. This requires you to focus on your breath, each inhale and exhale. It will help calm and prevent negative emotions, such as frustration or anger. For instance, suppose you are waiting line to pay for a bag of milk. The cashier is processing the customer’s groceries in front of you very slowly. You begin to feel frustrated, which reduces your calm mental state. To eliminate the frustration, focus your attention on your breath for one minute or until the cashier is ready assist you.
- Engage in flow activities or hobbies during your leisure time. A flow activity is anything that has a goal and requires you to concentrate. In the process, you lose all track of time and become thoroughly absorbed in the task you are doing. There are simple ways to embrace flow, such as writing, reading, listening to music, taking photographs on the street, painting a landscape in your study.
- Count your blessing at the end of each day. Before bedtime, reflect on your day. Ask yourself: What was enjoyable? What was interesting? What was pleasurable? What did I do that I am grateful for? What can I be thankful for? Perhaps a job, good conversation, tasty meal. At the very least, you can be grateful for your good health. By giving thanks, you focus on the present moment, instead of worrying about the future, or ruminating about past regrets or misfortune.
- Learn mindfulness meditation and then make it a habit. It is the best way to learn to become mindful, because meditation requires you to concentrate, to pay attention, to focus on the here and now. The simplest way to mediate is by learning mindfulness meditation. You can learn by reading “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Henepola Gunaratana or Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Where Ever You Go, There You Are.”
- Begin practising yoga or Tai Chi. They will help you learn to live mindfully.
- Spend time with nature, listening to the sounds, observing its beauty, smelling the fragrances of the wild.
- Incorporate mindful rituals into your life, such as reading in silence, listening to music, writing in your journal, feeling the touch of warm water in the shower, doing nothing for 10 minutes, adding some aroma candles to your private space.
There are many types of meditation that will teach you how to live mindfully. A simple, yet powerful and popular method you can learn is “mindfulness meditation,” which requires you to sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus your attention on your breathe. Meditation will teach you to concentrate and become aware of the present moment. Meditation will clear your mind of mental clutter and help you become calm and peaceful. Here are the basic steps to mindfulness meditation:
- Find a quiet place.
- Sit down and cross your legs.
- Close your eyes, and begin to concentrate on what you hear.
- Once your mind is calm, focus your attention focus on each breath, inhaling and exhaling.
- When your mind begins to wander, for instance, you begin to contemplate the to do-list or goals for your life, bring your attention back to your breath.
- Start by meditating for 5, 10, 15, then 20 minutes each day.
To learn more, watch this very good video on Mindfulness Meditation.
How will you know that meditation is working? First, you will become aware of life unfolding in the present moment—the sensory details. Secondly, you’ll notice your negative emotions without reacting. Thirdly, you’ll discover that everything in life is impermanent—your thoughts, emotions, and experiences. And so, while you might be angry today, the anger will subside tomorrow. Today, might be a day to forget, tomorrow will always be different in some way. That is why you should always focus on being optimistic. Fourthly, you’ll feel calm and peaceful and in control. When adversity strikes, you will not unravel or become an emotional wreck or raging lunatic.
There are many steps you can take to improve your happiness. Living mindfully is one of those steps you can climb. It is a mental habit you must work on and develop, until it becomes second nature. Research has proven that living mindfully will improve your happiness and well-being. By focusing on the present moment, which is really the only reality, you won’t become distracted by the past, such as sad memories or tormenting regrets. Nor will you worry about a future that is really unknown, until it happens. Instead, you’ll become aware and focus your attention on the joys of your life, the pleasures of your life, and activities, people, experiences you can be thankful or grateful for. The intention of mindfulness is to embrace and live the advice suggested by Mother Teresa: “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”
For additional information on living mindfully, check out the following:
- The Art of Mindfulness: The Mindfulness Revolution, Time magazine, January 24, 2014
- Full Catastrophic Living by Jon Kabat- Zinn
- A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation, Edited by Rod Meade Sperry
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- How to Awaken: A Buddhist Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorry by Toni Berhard
- Where Ever You go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
- Mindfulness in Plain English Henepola Gunaratana