What does it mean to be ‘mindful’ in every day living?

We can begin to answer this by looking first at what it means to be ‘mindless’. If you are moving through each day on automatic pilot, feeling stressed, focused on pain, shut down by fear and anger, rushing through a to-do list, and generally overwhelmed, you are probably in a constant state of mindlessness and you are not consciously aware of anything you are engaging in. You are not noticing the thoughts, feelings, or sensations that occur in your body that act as indicators of whatever is going on inside and around you.

A Useful Definition

Jon Kabat-Zinn[1] defines mindfulness in this way: the awareness that arises when you pay attention, on purpose, without judgment, in each moment.

If you really notice the aroma of the fresh brewed coffee, feel the cold in your feet as you walk through the snow, or really hear both the words and the emotion when someone is speaking to you, through the spirit of curiosity or compassion, then you are most likely experiencing mindfulness – being present to the moment.

What would you be like if you were living life more mindfully every day? The research[2] tells us that mindfulness can support us in:

  • Being calmer
  • Being less reactive
  • Sleeping better
  • Tasting the flavors in food
  • Being kinder to one’s self and others
  • Loosening our creativity
  • Generally being more effective and productive at work
  • Managing pain and stress better
The Way of Mindfulness

“There’s something deeply important about the quality of attention that we are capable of giving to ourselves and others. Yet we impoverish our understanding if we neglect, ignore, or denigrate the intelligence in the body. With mindfulness, we bring all the different sides together, to be integrated.”

— Guy Claxton

The Way of Mindfulness

The Practices

There are many layers to cultivating mindfulness. There are the informal practices of bringing attention, care and time to what one is engaging in, in the every day actions of speaking and listening, moving, eating, thinking, seeing, feeling and so on. There are the formal practices of mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful gentle yoga, and the mindful body – scan. Research[3] tells us that at least 25 minutes of these formal practices

each day for 8 weeks changes, for the better, how the brain functions. The important point here is to establish a daily, regular practice no matter how long or short.

The Qualities of ‘Attending’

The qualities that are brought to this ‘attending’ whenever we do either the formal or informal practices are:

  • Acceptance
  • Non-judgment
  • Non-striving
  • Patience
  • Trust
  • Openness
  • Letting go
  • Empathy
  • Generosity
  • Gratitude
  • Gentleness
  • Loving-kindness

Observing ourselves through these lenses gives us the courage to be with what is, to lean into it, rather than run away from it. This is a very different way of being.

“Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather, do it as an act of love, of deep warm friendship to yourself.”

— Bob Sharples

The Gifts of Mindfulness Practice

The gifts that mindfulness can bring are many and layered depending on one’s purpose for and commitment to the practice. Any of the practices, for long or short times, bring almost immediate calm and relief on the heels of attending to what is there, in, and around you, in the moment. A longer and consistent cultivation of the formal practices brings a more significant and lasting release from the challenges of stress, and can move one towards wellness and wholeness. And, when one continues over time, in the spirit of Zinn’s definition, mindfulness can bring a courageous and awe-filled uncovering of one’s inner wisdom, along with the confidence to trust it and apply it in one’s life – in work, business, and in relationships.

Mindfulness Is Not About Bliss

Although mindfulness practice always brings a sense of calm and release, it is not about chasing bliss. Rather it is a humbly seeing, embracing and accepting what is in that moment without judging yourself, others, or the circumstances involved. It is an equal welcome of all the pleasant and unpleasant experiences, and not labeling them as either, but instead, being open in a spirit of curiosity and inquiry, to the gifts, the message, the indications they bring. It is, instead, about bringing kindness and compassion to all involved. Not necessarily easy to do, but very possible when using the practices, especially over time. It is also important, that we bring a spirit of play and lightness to this practice, so smiling while sitting is very encouraged!

The Way of Mindfulness

“There is a fountain inside of you. Don’t walk around with an empty bucket.”

— Rumi

The Way of Mindfulness

The Wholeness Within

Each one of us has within them all the wisdom, direction and guidance one needs to live a flourishing and vital life, no matter our circumstance. All we need to do is be still, listen, and then act as guided. Mindfulness practice can be a way to develop this stillness, this quiet listening stance, this focus, and self – regulation, this connection to our inner wholeness, long enough to hear ourselves deeply. On the way to this, we may experience authenticity, calm, relief — the range of emotions, in a manageable way, and expansion within ourselves. Being more mindful, or more attentive, can be the difference between stress and joy in our day. The tools of mindfulness give us that choice.

A Way of Truly Caring for Oneself

Mindfulness offers a way to truly self-care by guiding us to the inner wholeness that we are born with, and once there, to choose wellness.

[1] Founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course
[2] helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm
[3] news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/