Author: Dorothy Ashman, M.A.
Mindfulness is the conscious decision to be aware, without judgment, of the thoughts, emotions and sensations that you experience as you go through each day. This focused awareness also includes the external space that you inhabit, as well as the people, objects and activities that are going on in that space. Mindfulness is noticing the journey you are on instead of focusing on a future destination. It is learning to become conscious of your consciousness.
Mindfulness is watching, observing, witnessing, in a relaxed manner, all the fascinating things that are going on both inside and outside of your body at any moment. Pretend you are a newspaper reporter, jotting down notes about whatever you are doing. A good reporter gets down all the “facts”, but leaves out his opinions or judgments about what he is observing. Only on the editorial page is a writer encouraged to include his interpretation of an event. Mindfulness is learning to become a good news reporter, rather than an editorial writer. Practice imagining you are standing a few inches behind yourself, taking notes.
Or, imagine that you have been selected for the leading role in a play, and that you and the other performers have not been given a specific script for the show. Each night, you and the other players interact in whatever way seems interesting, creating dialogue, action and reaction. Sometimes the show unfolds with laughter, sometimes with sadness, anger etc. When you are being mindful, you are aware of how you deliver your lines, what your body feels like when you move across stage, what the other actors are doing and how you are responding to them. When you are not being mindful, you become so absorbed in the character that you are playing, that you lose the ability to watch yourself.
Mindfulness is not about changing the way you feel, rather it is the act of noticing what emotions or thoughts are presently inhabiting your mind and body. When you notice a feeling or a thought, say to yourself "Hmmmm… isn’t that interesting" and refrain from labeling it as good or bad. Don’t become frustrated if judgmental thoughts continue, because it is the nature of the mind to do so. Just pay attention to the thoughts without getting caught up in them.
Mindfulness is also about allowing events to unfold around you without forcing them to happen. Witness the people around you, the area you are in, the temperature of the day, the sights and sounds that are filling your space. Accept what you are experiencing with the same “Hmmmm… isn’t that interesting”, avoiding judgmental statements about what is happening.
A good way to begin learning how to non-judgmentally observe the present moment is to just notice your breathing. You can do this any place you are, any time of the day, no matter how you are feeling. As you focus on this simple act, pull your mind back from wandering in the past or the future. Pay attention to what it feels like when you inhale. Notice how the air feels as it flows through your nostrils. Notice your chest and abdominal area expand. Then pay attention to all the sensations in your body as you exhale. Don’t try to control your breathing, just notice it.
Another way to practice mindfulness is to experience your surroundings by noticing it through each of your senses. What object, shapes, colors do you see? What sounds do you hear? Do the objects feel hard, soft, sharp, warm…? Are there any fragrances? Are you tasting anything? Heightening your awareness of your senses brings you back into the present very quickly.
One of the best parts of practicing mindfulness is that it doesn’t take any extra time. You can be mindful of anything you are doing, feeling or thinking. Playing with a pet, interacting with an infant, listening intently to music, can all help you stay in the present and practice being mindful.
Choose one day each week to be your “mindfulness day”. From the moment you open your eyes, pay special attention to everything that is going on both inside and outside of you. Write yourself notes to remind yourself to return again and again to this heightened awareness. No matter what goes on during that day, just notice it. Before bedtime, take a few minutes and jot down several paragraphs about what you noticed.
Remember, mindfulness is the practice of living in the present as much as possible, pulling your mind back from the past or the future whenever you notice you are not in the now. The Mansion of Life contains an infinite number of rooms for you to explore and every present moment gives you the opportunity of experiencing fully the one you are in. Each room/moment is unique and once it is gone, you never have the opportunity to return to it again as a present moment. You cannot control which room will open for you next. What you can control is the quality of your attention while you are in each room/moment.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, 1999
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1994
Peace in Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1992