To understand mindfulness, we must understand mind. If brain is the hardware, mind is the software that we operate on. While cerebrum, and cerebellum could be present in every brain structure, thoughts and emotions are different in every mind. We all process sensory stimuli differently and have a unique subjective experience. It is through mind that we experience life.
When we are mindful, we are alive. We notice, we feel, we just be. Mindfulness is ability stay mindful in a moment. Most of the time our mind time travels, it is either in the past or in the future. Most of our thoughts are either memories from the past or worries about the future. Past and future hog all the headspace, leaving no room for the present. While eating a cupcake, rather than savoring every bite, all you can think about it is how it will add to your circumference or what should you watch on Netflix or the fight that you had with your boss. The cupcake gets no attention in the mind while being eaten. When you live mindfully, all you think about and focus on is the cupcake, everything else fades into oblivion.
Living in the moment is just a phrase for most people and not a default setting. Though with regular practice, we can gradually increase the proportion of mindful moments. You can learn to control your mind to stay in the present. It involves accepting all your thoughts, feelings and emotions and allowing them to flow through you. All your lifeforce and attention is directed at the present moment.
Awareness is a key element of mindfulness. You are aware of your surroundings and every minute sensation in your mind. You become an observer of your own thoughts. There is no judgement, no analysis. You just stop at being aware. You are in sync with the present.
Jack Kornfield put it beautifully in “The Wise Heart”, when he said, “Mindfulness and fearless presence bring true protection. When we meet the world with recognition, acceptance, investigation, and non-identification, we discover that wherever we are, freedom is possible, just as the rain falls on and nurtures all things equally.”
With so many things clamoring for our attention at any point, staying mindful has become more challenging than ever. We have traded focus and peace of mind for 24/7 connectivity and push notifications. Retiring to the mountains to live in a hut is not the solution. A 10-minute meditation practice can make a big difference. While you will not reach the level of a Zen Buddhist in a week, it will start making a difference. And over a period, it can rewire your neural circuits.
Mindfulness is the surest way to unlock the “power of now”. Its positive effects are multifold – improved productivity, peace of mind, happiness, and love. 10 minutes mindfulness can accomplish far more than 10 hours of scatter brain work.
Three characteristics of Mindfulness:
Mindfulness does not necessarily involve a lotus pose; you could be mindful while chopping vegetables. However, there are three distinctive elements of mindfulness.
-Intention: A strong and honest intent to be mindful is a paramount. If it is just a meditation fad you want to try or a tick in the box before starting your day, it is unlikely that you will make a lot of progress. What you seek is what you get. Seek heightened awareness to enhance your life experience.
-Attitude: Mindfulness is not a skill that you need to acquire, it is a natural state of life that you need to discover. There is no room for competition, aggression, or brute force on this journey. Learn mindfulness like children learn about the world – be nonjudgmental, accepting, curious and kind. Leave behind resistance and friction and do not try to rein in your mind. Just observe the spectacle of your thoughts.
-Attention: Observation takes attention. Typically, we squander away all our attention on thoughts unrelated to the present moment. We rarely are in the flow state, also known colloquially as being “in the zone”. “Flow” is a completely absorption into what one does that results in a transformation in one’s sense of time. It is the most superlative form of attention. And this is what happens in mindfulness.
Facts to know before starting your mindfulness practice
Mindfulness is not a technique, it’s actually a way of being. You could be mindful when you communicate, exercise, eat, sleep, walk, at a party, on a holiday, you get the drift.
It is important to know the following facts about mindfulness:
-It's not a purchase: You cannot buy mindfulness off the shelf. It is not available on device or an app. Your mind is the onl gadget you need. And It can be done anywhere! Your intent is all it takes!
-You don't have to quieten your mind: Do not fight the mind if it goes gallivanting around. Let it think, let it feel and just observe. Do not try to stop it. That is not the goal here. There isn’t going to be any bliss state or otherworldly communion.
-The mind wanders: Your mind will wander, and it is an essential part of mindfulness, so there is nothing to fear about it. The moment you recognize your mind is wandering is when the process begins.
-Judgy mind will try to take over: once again recognize these judgments and thoughts and acknowledge them. Don’t ignore them. Allow them to flow through you and feel the sensations they cause in your body.
-Focus: mindfulness is all about returning your attention again and again to the present moment, without disturbing your focus. Use your breath as an anchor to keep coming back to the present moment.
Now that we have an idea of what mindfulness is, let’s get into how to practice mindfulness. Remember that it isn’t necessary for you to invest in something fancy to practice mindfulness.
-Take a seat: Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you. Make sure you do not put yourself in an uncomfortable place. Find a stable and supportive space to sit.
-Set a time limit: decide your duration of this practice. If you are just beginning, it is best for you to choose a short time, such as 10-15 minutes. As you keep practicing, you can continue to extend your duration.
-Notice your body: You can sit or kneel. Just make sure you are in a position; you can stay in for a while. Concentrate on the details of your body posture and movements.
-Feel your breath: follow the sensation of your breath as it enters and leaves your body. You will sense a rhythmic pattern in your breathing. Focus on specifics like how deep you inhale and exhale, how your face and body move with it, the spacious pause between breaths, etc.
-Notice when your mind has wandered: When you get around to noticing this, it may take you just a few seconds, a minute, five minutes, or more, simply return your attention to the breath. It is natural for your mind to wander, so stay calm and follow the breath back into the present moment.
-Be kind to your wandering mind: Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Peacefully acknowledge and come back to the present moment. Remember to not fight the thoughts, you must observe them, and just let them pass.
Carry oodles of patience with you on the mindfulness journey. You will need a lot of it. In the beginning it might feel difficult, impossible almost and may be borderline silly. But hang in there. Regular practice will bear fruit. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it can transform your life. There isn’t a better way to obliterate stress and anxiety and build peace of mind and composure. Not to mention, enhanced performance in every aspect of life. Most importantly, it might not just add years to your life, but also put life back in your years. It puts you in sync with the universe and is essentially to meaningfully experience life.
As Eckhart Tolle says, “If your relationship to the present moment is not right - nothing can ever be right in the future - because when the future comes - it's the present moment.”
Like everything else, you have to try it to believe its magic. You do not have to become a hermit. Start small. Take out 10 minutes during the day and you will gradually be hooked.
“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain.”
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