As the New Year arrives most of us turn to assessing what went well in 2012 and what changes we might make in 2013. Last year was a big year for my changes and for the most part I met all my goals. With the arrival of 2013, I again picked my goals and established what it would take to meet them. Over the years I have learned to maximize the completion of the goals through the use mindfulness practice.
Some of you might wonder what I mean by mindfulness practice, so let me explain. The process of mindfulness comes from the teachings of the Buddha, when he wrote and talked about meditation. Over the centuries meditation has been taught and practiced by many different groups. It has been thought that a strong meditation practice would lead to improved peace, health and tranquility. It was not until Dr John Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 did the medical and psychological communities begin to look seriously at the benefits of meditation and specifically mindfulness. Over the last 40 years a significant number of studies have been published on the benefits of a mindfulness practice. Some of the areas that have shown positive results are in the treatment of such conditions as cancer, immune system disorders, pre and post surgery, stress reduction, treatment of anxiety and depression, ADHD, PTSD, hyperactivity in children, eating disorders, addiction recovery and many more. A mindfulness practice has also been shown to improve athletic performance, enhance family relationships, work place productivity, and creativity as well as improving overall focus and concentration.
The key to mindfulness is something that we often try to do in our everyday stressed filled lives. We try to find moments when the mind chatter, external stimulation and physical discomforts subside. The difficulty that we often face is that we are so driven by distractions that we find ourselves unable to attain the peace we want. What the researchers have been able to show is that the mind is a very powerful tool to help us, if we learn to use it correctly. A mind can be like a new puppy, running here and there, looking for things to get into and generally unwilling to learn any structure. Yet as many of you know, a puppy that is loved, shown structure and supported can become a wonderful companion in life. Developing a mindfulness approach can help your mind to work with you, not run from one idea to another or one distraction to another. So, for those of you new to this concept, let me offer the following. Practicing mindfulness can be as complicated as you want to make it or as simple as just becoming aware. Mindfulness is a psychological state where a person brings their complete attention to a present experience. The goal of mindfulness is to be as nonjudgmental, non elaborative, and as aware as possible of whatever thoughts, feeling or sensations are arising in the present moment.
Here are a couple of examples to help you understand how you can begin to use mindfulness in your busy life.
A cup of coffee or tea
You have just sat down with a hot cup of your favorite beverage. You have been thinking about this moment and here you are. You raise the cup and take that first sip. But, instantly your mind begins listing all the things you have to do after you finish the coffee. You hang in and remind yourself that the beverage tastes great. You stop fretting about all you have to do in the future and come back to the smell and taste of your beverage. As you settle back to the awareness of the liquid flowing down through your throat and into your stomach, your mind reactivated again, this time drawing you away to the sound of the phone or the email that just came in. You pause and wonder should you respond? But again you say” no” and choose not to listen to the internal critic that disapproves of you for not responding….. “It could be important you know!” the little voice says. Instead, you say to yourself, how wonderful this moment is and lift your cup one more time. This is your time. You will not be taken away from the joy that is coming from this cup in your hand. As you let the last drops flow from the cup and feel them sliding into your body, your mind again steps in to remind you how you should have done more with this time. But instead, you take a breath, smile to yourself, set the cup down and move on to other things in your day. If you are able to do this simple process of coming back to the moment and fully experiencing what is happening to you as you sip from the cup, then you are beginning to develop a mindfulness practice.
You have some time in that busy schedule of yours and are planning to take a brief walk. You’re going to do something good for yourself. You start to walk and your mind instantly begins trying to take you away from what you are experiencing. You look at your watch and begin thinking of everything that has to be done when you get back. You quicken your pace, so you can get this walk over and move on to more important things. You think about taking your cell phone out and making some calls. You even wonder if you should jog a little to get this done quicker. We all know how to do that kind of walk!
What does a mindful walk look like? You begin by deciding how long you will walk and where you are going. With your mind now focused on your walk, you start to move. You bring your awareness to what is happening with each step. As your feet touch the ground, you experience the stability that each step gives. Your arms begin to move in a rhythmic swing as you increase or decrease your speed. The air moves around you and caresses your exposed skin. Your heart responds to your strides pumping blood throughout your body. The exertion begins to cause a warming that you notice, but you keep your strides going. The sun is out and it adds more warmth around you. The sound of a bird catches your attention. You move your gaze to take in this lovely winged creature. Then just as quickly you bring your attention back to the walk and what is happening to you. When your mind wants to jump in and take you away from the moment, you simply notice it, but give it no power. You just come back to your steps, the sounds, the feelings and awareness of this exact moment. You have just practiced a mindfulness walk.
Mindfulness is basically striving to be in the moment of awareness to whatever is happening. There is neither a past nor a future, only the gift of the experiences created in this moment. The best tool we can bring to those goals we set for this year is to become mindful of the ways we help ourselves and the ways we sabotage ourselves. Practicing each day with a few simple tasks will help us find the self-awareness to bring peace and comfort to that busy mind of ours. The more we live in the moment the more control we have of the outcome…success is waiting.
For those of you who would like more information about meditation andmindfulness here is a link to John Kabat-Zinn