Over the last 30 years, the practice of mindfulness has been applied to meditation, stress management, pain relief and even recommended for becoming more tolerant of others and getting along. So what exactly is mindfulness, and how can it impact such a wide variety of situations?
Mindfulness is essentially paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, with an attitude of acceptance. It sounds simple enough, but it is not easy to change our habits of hurrying through our lives in order to notice what is going on around us, or within us, right now. We forget that what’s happening right now is the essence of being alive. We exist in the here and now, not in the past or the future. Thinking about the past, or the future, takes us away from experiencing life as it happens. But becoming more aware of the present can change our relationship with life. With regard to relationships with others, mindfulness can help us be kinder to ourselves, and appreciate each other, simply by being more present.
How do I start a mindfulness practice?
We all have demands on our time. So if you want to change your relationship with life and with others, you have to be intentional about making it a priority. A common starting point for practicing mindful meditation is to simply focus on your breathing. Your breath can’t happen in the past or the future – it’s always happening in the present. So by focusing on your breath, you are training your attention on the here and now.
A formal practice of mindfulness typically involves sitting quietly for a specific amount of time each day (30-45 minutes is best, but even 5 minutes is better than nothing), and training your attention on your breath. This is one way – a formal way – of developing mindfulness.
Another way is to cultivate a greater awareness of what’s happening right now in your everyday life. You can make time at any moment to practice mindfulness, even when you’re doing something mundane – like washing the dishes.
Any chore can become an exercise in perception: is the water hot or cold, are the plates rounded or scalloped, is the glass heavy or delicate? Instead of thinking, “Oh, I have to do the dishes again, and I hate doing the dishes,” you can focus on perceiving what’s happening in the moment, without judging the process. Doing so will remove the layer of suffering that comes from reflecting on how much you dislike what you might be doing.
Learn more about mindfulness — and its emotional and physical benefits — during Dr. Williams’ breakout session at Girls’ Day Out on Saturday, September 17. Get your tickets here.