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
In doing this, you are able to pull yourself out of that downward spiral and that emotional state of stress, identify what you're thinking and feeling without judgment, and get the clarity to figure out how to respond and move forward in a more productive and healthy way without causing further pain to yourself or others.
Another example is if, as a creative-type, you work extremely hard on a project that you're excited about. Maybe you've spent literally months on this creation, and put your heart and soul into it. Then when you present it, whether that's on a social media platform, your website, a blog, etc., the feedback or the response you get ends up being.... disappointing. Maybe you receive negative feedback from people, or you simply get no response, views, or sales on it. After being so excited about it for so long, your thoughts start spiraling with imposter syndrome or not feeling good enough:
"No one likes my creations. I am a failure. Why do I even keep trying? No one likes what I put out, but these other creators get so much attention for doing worse quality stuff. Maybe I'm just a terrible creator. Everyone else has it SO easy, but it'll never happen for me. Maybe I would get more recognition if it weren't for the algorithm always hiding and blocking my posts from people. Too bad I'm not making the same stuff everyone else is, THEN I'd have more likes and follows, but everyone wants to see the same boring stuff. Maybe I'll just stop trying, because what's the point?"
And now you're feeling terrible about yourself, your skills, and your passion and basing your worth on something situational and irrelevant in the big picture. We can use the same idea for mindfulness in this example to:
Acknowledging your feelings of disappointment, unworthiness, and frustration
Letting go of the judgments, expectations, beliefs of not being good enough, and the victim mindset
Using a mindfulness technique to bring you back in the moment so you can move forward
Using mindfulness in this way also helps give you the self-awareness to connect your mind, body, soul with your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. You're taking yourself out of the situation to almost an outside perspective, so that you can identify what you're thinking and feeling and why. Once you are more in tune with these, you can start to pick up on any unhealthy patterns you have that you haven't noticed. Only then can you start breaking those patterns, and start living a life with more happiness and less conflicts - because you won't be continuing to put yourself in situations that make you unhappy, and if you do you'll at least know how to best get yourself out of them. At the end of the day, YOU want to the be the one in control, instead of just going through the motions, letting your unconscious self have control.
Moving Forward Mindfully
Just like any other life skill, it definitely takes practice for mindfulness to become a natural habit and skill, and it might feel a little uncomfortable at first when you try it - especially in stressful and overwhelming situations. It's important not to guilt yourself if you forget or struggle to do it, because this is a process to re-train your brain from what you've learned and used as a go-to response in your life. But the more you practice using mindfulness every day, in both major and minor scenarios, the more comfortable you will become. It's completely normal to feel forced, awkward, or even fake when starting out on a mindful living journey. It may even feel like a placebo effect when you're trying, but even if it doesn't feel like it's helping in the moment, with consistency you will start to see the long-term benefits such as:
Self-awareness and confidence
Personal freedom and accountability
Mental and emotional clarity
Healthy stress and conflict management
One of the most important parts of practicing mindfulness I want to mention is that in doing so it's not guaranteeing that you won't have stress or negative emotions, nor is it about repressing them. Life will always continue to happen, good and bad, and we are humans who will feel and experience what we do based on our past and present. The difference is in how you respond to the stress and negativity, and with mindfulness one of the biggest benefits is that you learn how to not weigh yourself down by your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or circumstances. You experience them, acknowledge and honor them, then move forward in your life, allowing them to have existed merely in that moment.
Because at the end of the day, all we have is the moment we're living in right now.
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