It is officially one week until Thanksgiving and the mad rush to winter shutdown is underway. Our minds are not only filled with work commitments but also with family, travel and holiday preparations. What we lack during this time of year is the ability to appreciate the moments in front of us. We’re moving too fast. Think about the spinning class where your pedaling away yet can’t stop mentally building your grocery list; or the emails at work you're mindlessly writing while dreaming about vacation. We don’t stop to think about the present because our “monkey minds,” as Buddhists call them, ping pong between thoughts as monkeys do trees.
But if trying to ‘live in the moment,’ seems vague, don’t worry -- there is a method. “Mindfulness” is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. The concept was derived from ancient meditation practices and was introduced into the mainstream during the 1970s by founder of modern day mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He also created the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The popularity of mindfulness has increased over the last decade as the average American life grows increasingly stressful. Because we’re all on the brink of mental breakdowns, (enter, Her Savory Life), people are paying attention to the types of treatment that society might have at one time deemed "alternative."
I was still skeptical until I tried a mindfulness class while at the Lodge at Woodloch in the Poconos. I found it fascinating that when I closed my eyes, I could follow my thoughts as they danced from topic to topic. It was as If I watching my own mind. This proved to me that before that moment, I had never actually stopped moving. Mindfulness teaches you to accept that you are not your thoughts, but only an observer.
"Being present-minded takes away some of that self-evaluation and getting lost in your mind—and in the mind is where we make the evaluations that beat us up," says Stephen Schueller, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. “Instead of getting stuck in your head and worrying, you can let yourself go.”
You can try mindfulness in 4 simple steps:
1. Start to focus on your breath as your anchor to calm the mind. Breathe in for 4 counts and out for 4 counts.
2. As your attention wanders and thoughts begin to distract from your breath, acknowledge your thoughts and name them.
3. Recognize the emotion of noticing those thoughts and let them go.
4. Return to the focus on breathing in and out, until your mind starts to wander again. Repeat.
To be mindful everyday, you have to practice. Natural mindfulness comes with time, like training a muscle. Why don’t you stop and try it now? I just finished. In fact, I’m making a new commitment to mindfulness meditation for 5 minutes a day for 14 days. I’ll post a progress report afterwards.
Mindfulness while a simple concept, is incredibly intriguing as a practice. Stay tuned for more in depth mindfulness information on the blog.