DEMYSTIFYING MINDFULNESS

The term “Mindfulness” seems to be omnipresent these days.

Just Google it and you can spend hours lost in practically infinite information and its applications.  Everyone’s doing it: Oprah, Congressman Tim Ryan, companies such as Google, Apple Computer and IBM.  Simply stated, mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment with acceptance.  No, you do not need to twist yourself into a pretzel, chant, or get all New-Agey in order to practice it (not that there’s anything wrong with that…).  In fact, you can practice it right here, right now.  Go ahead, give it a try – as you sit here reading these words, notice your chest rising and falling as the breath comes and goes, notice where your body is making contact with the surface you are sitting upon.  Look up for a moment and observe what you see… Congratulations!  You have just successfully practiced mindfulness.

Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, describes it as familiarizing yourself with your own mind, increasing focus with calm clarity; a balance of focus and relaxation. He refers to a Harvard study that showed we spend 47% of our day lost in thought.  Considering there is a direct correlation between being lost in thought and unhappiness and that we spend half of our days lost, well, you do the math…

Some use the analogy of a snow globe to illustrate.  When we are very young, if our basic needs are met, there is little stress and life feels calm.  Our minds are clear, much like the snow globe at rest.  As we grow and our responsibilities and stress grow with us, the snow that had been calmly settled on the bottom is stirred up.  More stress, more shaking, and soon we are unable to see clearly through the snow.  Our thoughts and minds are clouded and murky like the snow.  With a regular Mindfulness practice, we more often remember to pause and breathe.  We in effect stop shaking the globe, thereby causing the snow and our thoughts to settle.  The stressors don’t disappear, but we are now able to see a bit more clearly and calmly, opening us up to more rational and reasonable thinking and decision-making.

Mindfulness meditation is not something you practice for a few minutes each day and forget about.  Mindfulness is a way of being in the world, a way of seeing the world and each other, a way of meeting life with compassion and kindness for ourselves and others. This tends to seep into our lives slowly and subtly when we carve out a few minutes each day to get quiet and still.

So, give it a try.  Start with 5 minutes a day.  Sit still, close your eyes.  Notice how your belly rises and falls as the breath comes and goes.  Don’t try to change the breath – let it be however it is.  When your mind wanders (which it will do countless times) simply notice where it was, gently direct your attention back to the breath and begin again.  Notice if anything feels different on the days you have practiced.  Other than some stress, what do you have to lose?