How mindful are you?
In our hectic, over-scheduled and chaotic lives, mindfulness is often shoved to the back burner. We are consistently tethered to our smartphones, tablets and laptops. Admit it, you sometimes sleep with your phone under your pillow and grab for it the moment you arise in the morning. If someone asks you a question while you’re reading the latest celebrity scandal, do you give them your full attention? Even though you share living and work space with others, you sometimes go for days without making eye contact with anyone. You’ve walked into things while texting. It’s ok, we understand, and we’re guilty too.
Mindfulness is defined as “a state of active, open attention to the present” or “paying attention, being in the present moment, without judgement”. It seems as though there isn’t much room for this lovely idea in our constantly streaming, buzzing daily lives, but there is. The bottom line is that with some simple modifications, you can begin to live a more mindful and present life.
Imagine how amazing it would feel to wake up in the morning and just sit there for a few extra minutes, being grateful for all that you have; you listen to your breath. Perhaps the corners of your mouth turn upward and your face relaxes completely as you take a deep breath in….. you exhale fully before hopping out of bed, grabbing your phone, sending twenty texts, seven emails and reaching for your coffee.
The root of our problems these days is multitasking. It seems like an innocuous word that implies excellence, achievement and hard work. In actuality, answering an email while reading an article, simultaneously sending rapid-fire texts is overtaxing your nervous system and taking you out of the present moment. In order to come back to our natural balanced state we need to do one thing at a time.
I’ve studied Buddhism for five years now, and one of the teachings that repeatedly surfaces is that we need to stop clouding ourselves and stay present to our experiences: The good, the bad and the ugly. My favorite Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön, says that we need to “learn to abide in the experience of discomfort and fear without checking out”. Hiding out online, constantly distracting, overbooking ourselves, does not permit us to be fully present. If we never stop to just sit with our feelings, they pile up and we wind up emotionally clogged and drained. It’s not that difficult to turn this all around. Here are some simple ways to begin to live more mindfully:
Pay attention to your breathing.
There’s a very simple breathing exercise where you simply sit and say the words “inhale, exhale” to yourself while focusing on your breath. It’s ridiculously simple but will bring about profound positive change once you implement it. Simply sitting and paying attention to the flow of breath in and out of your body will help you clear your thoughts and appreciate the physical body you have been given. Slowing down and focusing on your breath will also help refresh your thoughts, so you return to whatever you’re tending to with a less foggy mind.
Spend time in nature every day.
Both my eastern and western physicians have suggested that I spend a minimum of 20 minutes outdoors every day, regardless of the temperature. Even if you work in a corporate environment, bring some sneakers to work and take a 15 to 20 minute walk on your lunch break. Please switch your phone to silent mode and don’t check it until you return to work. No cheating! Look at whatever you walk by and acknowledge the trees, their leaves, the soil from which the tree is growing, and just be really very aware of your surroundings. Listen to the sounds you hear; the birds, the crunch of gravel or dirt beneath your feet and then, just smile.
Take time to enjoy your meals.
Before you eat, look at the food on its plate. Think about where it came from and the effort involved in its preparation. Take a moment and be grateful that you are able to easily obtain food. Don’t inhale your meals and only take enough food to satisfy your hunger. Eat slowly and savor the texture, colors and flavors. Another perk of slowing down while you eat, is that you tend to ingest less. This in turn is a positive side effect of eating mindfully; you’re less apt to over-eat, experience indigestion and potential weight gain.
Put your phone away for one hour every day.
This one sounds daunting but trust me, once you start doing it it gets easier and easier. Take an intentional daily break from social media and texting. Set your phone aside turn it off; don’t use it at all for one hour every day. Many of us can recall the days before we had cell phones and we managed perfectly fine without talking to each other constantly throughout the day. Most of us are actually addicted to checking our phones. Starting with one hour of phone free time every day is a great way to cultivate stillness of the mind. How nice would it be if for that hour you focused on one project or one conversation with one person?
Learn how to meditate.
Most of us feel that we cannot commit to meditation because we think we must dedicate a lot of time to it on a daily basis. This is a myth. Set a timer for just 10 minutes and start there. Turn your telephone off and use an actual timer (like a kitchen timer). If you live with other people, ask that they do not interrupt you during your meditation practice. Doing a short meditation practice every day is much more effective than doing a long practice once or twice a week. Look for short videos on YouTube that are labeled “Mindfulness Meditation” or “Easy Meditation”.
Bottom line: We need not run off to a meditation center in order to live a more mindful life. By adding some new, healthy habits and subtracting a few unhealthy ones, you can adapt a fresh way of being and doing. Mindful living is accessible to us all, anytime we chose to tap into it. In these intense and often overwhelming times, do yourself a favor and give it a whirl. You just might be surprised at how quickly you’ll reap the benefits. To quote the amazing Eckhart Tolle: “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the now the primary focus of your life.”
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