Why Should I Engage In Mindfulness?
Are my eyes deceiving me?
This week, I saw the word “Mindfulness” on the cover of a popular magazine at the checkout of our 25 aisle local market. “MINDFULNESS” was in bold and CAPS! Given the amount of competition to become a cover story in the mainstream, I was delightfully surprised.
I love it when a potent concept takes off and begins to speak meaningfully to a wider public. Especially, when it’s helpful! Indeed, mindfulness has been inching its way to becoming a household word.
I’d like to take this time to share with you the concept mindfulness, two different types of practices and the benefits of these kinds of practices.
So what is mindfulness anyway? And why is it growing in popularity?
Mindfulness is sometimes associated with meditation, stress reduction or relaxation. At other times, a tool of self-knowledge & empowerment, a path towards enlightenment or freedom, or simply a way of walking through life.
At its essence, it’s a state of awareness where we bring compassionate attention to our internal experience and to the world around us. It’s a state of being awake and present in the moment-to-moment flow of life.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it’s supposed to be. We’re designed to do this quite naturally.
The 4 basic ingredients of mindfulness are:
- Access a state of inner friendliness or compassion
- Be awake and present in the moment.
- When our awareness naturally wanders into a particular train of thought, feeling, memory, future focus, or laundry list of details, use a mindfulness tool to come back to the moment.
The simple tool we all share is our breath.
From the breath, mindfulness practices are like different kinds of soup with different flavors and benefits.
In a basic mindfulness meditation,
We are simply awake and present to experience as it unfolds without attending to any particular thought or feeling. Our intention is to witness the changing experiences of being alive from the bank of a river, nourishing the awareness of just being present.
“Oh, I forgot to call so-and-so!”… “I’m getting hungry”… “What did my friend mean by that comment?”…“I want to take a vacation this year”… “Did I put the clothes in the dryer?”…”Who am I anyway?”…
On and on. Important thoughts and insignificant ones, all streaming along, one after another. We watch them float by like leaves on the current.
This mindfulness practice offers many health benefits.
It brings our nervous system into a state of parasympathetic relaxation where the whole body can rest, rejuvenate and repair. This is one of the main reasons for its growing popularity in mainstream. It’s a very useful technique for managing stress and supporting health and wellbeing.
With practice, it also brings a widened perspective on who we are and on life itself. And believe it or not, we can access this state when out in our busy lives! Even 5 minutes, in a quiet corner at work, can be enough time to dip into the well of this state and receive its benefits!
A different kind of mindfulness practice brings our attention to the content of our experience.
Again, we start from the baseline of compassion and present time awareness of our breath and body. But now we add curiosity about the particulars of our experience and a new journey begins. It’s a kind of mindfulness self-inquiry, a self-study that uses the tool of tracking.
It’s a lot like tracking a deer in the snow.
We quiet inside, open, and begin to scan for signs.
The tracks in the snow may be clear with crisp edges or they might be fuzzy after a wind has blown through. They might disappear for a while so we need to seek out other signs: a broken twig perhaps. Or we might need to scan further off in the distance to see if tracks show up again. We use all of our channels of experience: Shifting from my eyes to my ears, my nose or feelings to learn more.
In mindfulness self-inquiry,
We might offer a gentle probe or a question into our awareness to get us started, much like dropping a stone into a pool of water and tracking its ripples. It can be anything at all: Imagine someone is opening a door for you. Imagine someone is taking a bite out of your sandwich. Remember a time when you were happy. Notice the person sitting next to you. And so on. Then, we track, with interest and compassion our internal experience, noticing our senses, our emotions, thoughts or beliefs that are triggered, inclinations to defend or to open, any subtle movements.
Tracking this technicolor cascade of responses in mindfulness allow us to learn how we are organized inside–what we are conscious of and what occurs typically outside of our awareness.
We are able to examine the beliefs that give rise to our interpretations, responses and our strategies for being with a spectrum of life experiences.
We can discover our notions of sweetness, nourishment, our defenses and strategies for dealing with our fears.
When we spend time in this quiet friendly space we can learn our beliefs about ourselves, others, and the wider world.
In this kind of practice, we’re able to compassionately discover who we are in deeper ways. It lets us become more aware of what we didn’t even realize about ourselves.
Finally, and most importantly, it can help us make choices more freely about who we are and how we want to live.
I love the ways that mindfulness practice supports us to slow down and become more real. When we do it in compassionate and loving ways, it’s absolutely interesting.
It’s informative and healing. It’s empowering and liberating.
We discover the ways we are deeply resourced and wise. But also, how we’re living from limited notions of who we are and who we can be. How we’re living as if the Earth was flat and where we’ve truly understood that it’s round. We get to stretch out into possibility for ourselves, for others and frankly, for the world.
With the simple mindfulness tools we are able to access a state where our entire being can rest, relax, and rejuvenate.
Mindfulness. I recommend it. For its health benefits and for the adventure into becoming more deeply alive.