Updated: Jul 22, 2021
I've recently become aware that a lot of people don't know what mindfulness is, or there's a lot of misconceptions about what it means. It seems like it's become of one of those words that people - especially in the spiritual community - throw around without clarity or real-world examples of how to use it.
So, What is Mindfulness?
The term "mindfulness" is defined as:
1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. 2. A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
I like to personally refer to it as being present in the moment of what you’re sensing and feeling - without judgment. The key here is not judging or criticizing yourself for what you're thinking or feeling, it's simply about the awareness.
A good and common example of experiencing mindfulness is practicing meditation. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not about thinking zero thoughts, it's simply about focusing on
Our minds tend to constantly bounce from one thing to another, especially when we're stressed, and can make us feel a little chaotic. So it can be very beneficial to learn how to bring the focus in to where you are right now, on one observation of thought or feeling at a time, when you start to notice your mind is getting pulled in multiple directions or you start spiraling with many thoughts at once.
Again I want to reiterate with those observations that you don't want to judge, because we often have a tendency to do that to ourselves. If we're feeling jealous, overwhelmed, tired, angry, etc. we have a tendency to think to ourselves,
"I shouldn't feel this way"
"I feel dumb for thinking this"
"I know I should feel this way instead"
"Other people have it worse than me"
And it's just not good for our mental state to criticize and invalidate our thoughts and feelings like that, especially if we're doing it often.
What is it Like to Experience Mindfulness?
You've probably experienced mindfulness before now without having even realized it! Try to think of a situation or experience you've had where you were just able to exist. Maybe you were doing something, like exercising, or maybe you were just sitting or standing in a place. But in that moment all of your other thoughts or worries seems to fade away, and it almost feels like nothing else in the world exists except for you in that moment.
For me personally, I LOVE going to the beach. It's always been one of my happy places and I never get sick of it. It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized I love it so much because when I'm there is where I feel the most mindful and at peace with myself. I like to just sit and:
Hear the waves
Smell the air
Feel the sand
All of my thoughts melt away, and I'm left there taking in everything that is around me, and accepting the present moment as it is.
If you have a place like that, where you've gone to and can simply sit and be while everything else seems to fade away and you're only focus is on the here and now, then you've experienced mindfulness. One example I hear often is the experience when you hear a song or are at a live music show, and you get so caught up in the music that you can physically feel it through your body. You start dancing and moving with the sound, and you're so entranced in the experience that you can't think about anything else except for the music flowing through you.
THAT is mindfulness.
Using Mindfulness in Our Daily Lives
Mindfulness isn't something that should be limited to just beach trips and yoga retreats, it's very much something we are all capable of incorporating into our normal, daily lives. Sometimes when we're caught up in the craziness of everything we're doing, I think we tend to think about mindful living and say,
" I can do it on the weekend, or once I finish this project and have more time, I'm just so busy right now."
But the truth is mindfulness isn't meant to just "schedule in" whenever you can. It truly is a lifestyle choice, and if you want it to be effective and you want to see consistent results with it, then you need to put in the time and energy to incorporate it into your daily life whenever you need it, in that moment.
For example, let's say you work in an office, at a job that doesn't make you happy. Even if the job itself is fine, it just doesn't excite you and causes you a lot of stress. But you work hard, because you want to do well so you can get a raise, promotion, recognition, etc. - whatever your motive is. So you're working really hard on this task, and you're feeling the overwhelm and stress trying to get it completed in the best way possible, and your boss comes up to you and frustratingly asks why it isn't finished yet. Then you start to mentally spiral:
"I am already stressed and overwhelmed, I don't need this added pressure on top of it. I KNOW when the deadline is. I already do so much for this company, and it all goes unnoticed and unappreciated. This person got promoted and I work SO much harder than them. Not to mention what I have going on in my personal life and the expectations that family has on me, now this guy's going to come at me like I'm not doing enough work because you decided you want it now. I hate my job, everything sucks!"
Next thing you know you're feeling stressed, overwhelmed, unappreciated, and angry, and this is when we tend to project our unhappiness in other ways. We lash out at those around us, attempt to soothe ourselves with vices like drinking, overeating, and tv, and devour ourselves with negative and detrimental self talk. So in this example, you can use mindfulness in that initial moment when your boss confronts you, by:
Acknowledging your feelings of overwhelm, stress, and under-appreciation
Letting go of the tension, judgments, and expectations
Using a mindfulness technique to bring you back in the moment so you can move forward