So, what is this mindfulness thing anyway, and why would I want to be mindful?
Mindfulness is just being completely aware of and engaged in whatever is happening in the present moment. It is the understanding that the previous moment is already gone and the next moment hasn’t happened yet, so the present moment is all we ever have, really. It is being aware of our thoughts and feelings at any given time without becoming overwhelmed by them or attached to them.
Why not be attached? What’s so bad about that?. And didn’t I just say be engaged in whatever is happening in the moment? But being attached to someone or something is different from engaging with a person or thing. And there is also a big difference between non-attachment and detachment, as Brian Thompson, creator of www.zenthinking.net explains:
“Non-attachment is essentially a practice of presence and mindfulness. It is not allowing your sense of wellbeing to rely upon anything other than your own presence of awareness. It means to be in the world, but not of the world. Detachment however, means to distance oneself from the world out of total disinterest. It’s an aloofness that separates oneself from the rest of the world. Essentially, it is escapism—which is a form of suffering.”
Attachment carries with it expectations, wants, hopes and desires. We are not so much attached to a person or a thing, as we are attached to achieving a particular outcome that has to do with that person or thing. And because of this we form judgments about what we are experiencing and we label things, people, thoughts and feelings as “good” or “bad.”
To get the outcome we want, we may consciously or unconsciously manipulate a person or situation to try to force a particular outcome. Too often we’re disappointed when it doesn’t work out as we had hoped. When we learn to accept people and things as they are in that moment, we can begin to let go of wants, fears, worries, expectations and regrets, and just enjoy what is in front of us in the present. We don’t stop planning for the future or setting goals for ourselves, we just try to focus more on the journey as it unfolds. We may even find ourselves more flexible about the goal itself as the journey goes on.
Here’s the thing… when we are mindful we are able to accept a person or situation as it is in this moment because we get it that the present moment is all we really have. When we are mindful we are engaged in what is right in front of us. We are focused on what is happening in the present moment, and not on what has happened in the past or may (or may not) happen in the future.
It takes practice to be mindful, to accept things as they are, and to let go of attachment but you can just start where you are now. Focus on your breath and pay attention to how it feels to breathe in and out. Don’t get upset if you find your mind wandering when you are trying to be mindful, just bring your attention back to your breath.
I didn’t forget the second part of the question, which is “why would I want to be mindful?” A recent article in the Harvard Gazette highlighted the research of Dr. Gaelle Desbordes and Dr. Benjamin Shapero whose studies on mindfulness have shown beneficial results for people with anxiety, depression, or chronic pain. Many other studies have shown mindfulness to be effective in reducing stress, but don’t take my word for it, do your own research.
And there you have it – the answer to the second part of the question. We live in a stressful, busy world, but focusing on the present moment can reduce stress and improve our physical and emotional health.