The word mindful is thrown around a lot these days. Mindful eating, mindful sleeping, mindful relationships, mindful work, mindful parenting, mindful mindfulness... the list goes on and on.
As is often the case when a word is overused, it becomes a cliché. In this blog I hope to move beyond this to share how to live mindfully in a meaningful, practical, accessible, and sustainable way.
Learning about Mindfulness
Almost three decades ago, I cringed at the suggestion of beginning a mindfulness practice. I was working fulltime, going to school fulltime, pregnant with my first child, with a husband, a cat, and no idea how to get through each day with my sanity intact. Because my pregnancy was considered high-risk, my doctor suggested I practice mindfulness. On top of everything else I had going on in my life. The nerve!
As I usually did when I started something new, I grabbed a thick notebook and went to the library (you know, that place we went to for information before Google) to start my research.
I thought I needed to be a scholar in all things transcendental, religious, and philosophical to sit and be still. In typical fashion, I made it far more difficult and complicated than it needed to be. The very foundation of mindfulness practice encourages simplicity. I had a lot to learn and was missing the proverbial boat on the concept of mindful living.
Mindfulness: An Ancient Practice
Prior to 2000, there were fewer than 39 peer-reviewed research articles on mindfulness. They had no studies with MRIs yet that showed the effects of mindfulness practice on the brain. There were no apps and few websites on the topic. So what did I learn?
I learned mindfulness was rooted in many traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islamic faiths. This article reviews the varied history of mindfulness and defines it succinctly. Interestingly, the research outlines the importance of certain simple aspects to mindfulness practice including the “...development of concentration, attention, and acceptance... in a nonjudgmental way.” In other words, remaining fully in the present moment without judgment.
However, as I soon learned, simple seldom means easy. I started with a basic breath meditation. The goal was 10 minutes of silent, breath-focused breathing. Who couldn’t sit in silence breathing for 10 minutes?
Me! Within seconds I was thinking about a chemistry assignment due the next day. Then, the never-ending pile of laundry. Next, the car that needed gas.
The cat on my lap distracted me (as if I wasn’t already distracted enough). Surely, 10 minutes had passed. I peeked open my eye and exactly one minute had passed! I was a complete and utter failure at this mindfulness thing.
But I wasn’t.
Mindfulness Takes Practice
What I learned was that the practice of mindfulness is about the act of developing without judgment. If I already knew how to concentrate, attend, and accept without judgment, I wouldn’t need to practice it.
The act of the practice was the act of being mindful.
Mindfulness is the conditioning of the mind. If I wanted to be a mindful parent, spouse, employee, student, friend, or anything else, I had to be willing to look at how I was living in the present moment – or not – to practice mindful living.
Today, there are over 16,000 publications on mindfulness. If you search “mindfulness” on Google, you’ll get over 438,000,000 results. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and even easier to give up.
I propose that it’s not so complicated. While we need research to validate the benefits of mindful living, we also need the practical experience of being mindful. This blog will offer tips on mindful living that are simple and make sense for everyday life.
And while you will not levitate off the floor or be in a constant state of Zen, you will be more aware and have options to approach life sensibly and confidently in each moment.
Love, light, prayers, and peace!