Good Monday morning, meditators! In this, the first installment of Meditate Monday — where I share quick and easy tips to gain some calm and clarity in your life — we’re going to start where many people start: mindfulness.
It’s a word that seems to be everywhere these days. But what does it actually mean? And where does it come from?
Well, it turns out the definition of mindfulness depends on who’s defining it.
Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us it’s paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judgment. Some teachers, like Sharon Salzberg, have highlighted the importance of adopting a friendly and compassionate attitude in that nonjudgmental stance.
My first introduction to it came through Thich Nhat Hanh. He defines mindfulness as “a kind of energy that we generate when we bring our mind back to our body and get in touch with what is going on in the present moment, within us and around us.”
I like to think of mindfulness as recognizing the miracle of being alive in every moment.
In the West, mindfulness seems to have taken on a life of its own, being used everywhere from the boardroom to the battlefield. But it’s really connected to the Burmese practice of vipassana (or insight).
The insight it brings us is “into the true nature of reality.” This reality, according to Buddhism, is marked by three characteristics: impermanence, discomfort, and my favorite — emptiness or non-self. (More on that in another post!)
So why has mindfulness become all the rage? In short, because it can change your life. I know it did mine.
Mindfulness relieves stress, improves physical and mental health, and increases our resilience and focus. It helps us sleep and communicate better. Mindfulness helps us make good decisions and feel more compassion for others. It even slows down neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s.
Studies have even found that it helps women overcome self-judgmental chatter in the sack, allowing them to connect with the present moment and, well, enjoy themselves more . . . . And holy shit, this doesn’t surprise me, but it’s awesome that there’s a study to back it up: Mindfulness reduces implicit bias.
At base, mindfulness shows us we are not our thoughts.
Okay, I hear you: You’re convinced. How to start?
One of the best things about mindfulness is you can find it in any moment. You don’t even need a meditation cushion.
Sure, you can do a formal mindfulness meditation practice (and we can certainly cover that in future posts) — but why not just start now?
Close your eyes if you’d like and start by becoming aware of your breath. No need to change your breath; no need to judge it. Just become aware of its inflow and outflow.
Notice any sensations you feel in your body. Maybe it’s a tingling in your hands. Or a pang in your shoulder. Again, no judgment, just awareness.
Notice any sounds you hear. The din of the freeway in the distance. The chirp of birds in the backyard. No judgment, just this now moment.
If thoughts arise, notice them and allow them to pass through. No need to shoo them away. Your mind is a vast sky, your thoughts merely clouds floating on by. Simply bring your attention back to your experience here in this moment.
And there you’ve done it: mindfulness. Next time you’re washing dishes or walking the dog, you might come back to this awareness. Feel the water against your skin or your feet as they hit the ground.
And no matter what, wherever you are, mindfulness is always as close as your breath.
I’d love to hear from you: How did you discover mindfulness? Let me know in the comments!