According to mindful.org, the definition of mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
I really like this definition because it sums up exactly what the goal of mindfulness should be, but I’d like to go a little deeper.
What is mindfulness?
• A way of being that requires practice.
• Not something that happens over night.
• Being in equilibrium with the external world by remaining unshaken by the world around us
• Being balanced with our internal world of feelings by not reacting out of emotion
• Centered in our hearts, mind and soul
So much of what it means to be mindful centers around meditation, which to be completely transparent isn’t something I practice in my daily life. But no matter how you chose to practice it, mindfulness is accomplished when we take the time to sit with our emotions, process difficult feelings and stay centered with our authentic selves without judgement. My meditation just looks different. I practice this skill when I am walking through the wilderness, when I journal, when I breath through a difficult situation or when I honor my feelings by allowing myself to cry when I feel sad and hurt.
Why mindfulness needs to be practiced?
Oftentimes we are fixated on the past or the future. For many people, the events from their past control their present, and what’s happening in the future dictates their anxiety. It’s so much easier to focus our attention on the past or the future because we often want to escape our present situations. And I get it. We are often consumed with the mundane things in life that we want to escape from. It might be a screaming baby, fighting siblings, traffic on the way home from work, or trying to get all the kids ready when you are running late. We often look to the future (ie. the glass of wine when we get home, the tv show we’ve been waiting for, the beach vacation next month) to get out of the present moment because the present moment is often lacking excitement or is too stressful. To make matters worse, our minds are running rampant with ideas, opinions, judgements, and worries at any given moment.
It’s no wonder that people go crazy in a society filled with busyness because by design busyness prevents us from being in the moment. This is why so many people have to implement a designated time for meditation to train their minds to stay present so they can take that skill into the world with them when shit hits the fan.
When we practice mindfulness, we are one with the moment and our feelings, not allowing anything from the past or future to control our thoughts and dictate our actions. We feel all the feelings, smell all the smells, taste, touch, and acknowledge where we are without any labels or judgements attached. It is learning to just be, and honoring the beauty of where we are right now.
How to Practice Mindfulness and What it Actually Means to be Mindful
Below are the 5 key principles for what it means to be mindful.
- Full presence
I believe that being fully present to both the exterior world and the internal world without labeling these experiences as good or bad is the first principle in mindfulness. We can not be mindful when we are constantly distracting ourselves from the present. Therefore, this requires that you take time to slow down from your regular life. Make time to sit with your feelings. Get clear about who you are and what you want you want out of this life. This is the hardest part because we live in a society that promotes success, abundance and happiness through hard work and burnout. Hard work in itself is not a bad thing. Hard work without mindfulness, however, can lead to disaster.
We can’t trust our intuition until we’ve taken the time to really get to know ourselves. Listen to your body. Trust yourself and your decisions so that you can feel confident in who you and what you stand for. Don’t let the opinions of others dictate how you live your life. You are bound to disappoint others, and that’s ok. Be okay with that. When you practice mindfulness, your intuition guides you to make decisions and act in ways that align with your authentic self.
- Get rid of expectations
Our past often determines how we view people and events. Our brains take a snapshot of past experiences and how they made us feel. It takes effort to train ourselves to not let these snapshots of life determine how we perceive things in the future. Anytime we have preconceived expectations or assumptions, we aren’t living in the present. Instead, our past controls us. Mindfulness requires that we approach every situation with optimism and get rid of an expectations.
For instance- If we have a bad experience with someone because they were rude, the next time we are with that person, we are instantly going to be defensive because we have an expectation that this time is going to be the same. And this is how we allow our past to determine our present situation. It is ben
- Eliminate Judgements
Eliminating judgements of others is often easier than eliminating the judgements we have of ourselves. The idea of something being labeled as bad or good is a socially constructed concept, which is why there is no universal definition of good or bad. I believe that labeling feelings or emotions as good or bad, right or wrong is one of the most detrimental things we can do for our mental health. Most people don’t need help chastising ourselves for not being good enough or not being what we want to be. Judging ourselves and others only exacerbates these negative feelings and often lead us to feelings of self-loathing. Making the conscious effort to allow us to be just as we are, no matter what we are feeling or what we are struggling with helps us flourish because we aren’t being bogged down by negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves.
- Acceptance Acceptance is the opposite of control. While we may not realize it, we often try to control many of the events around us. It may be subtle enough that we don’t even recognize we are doing it. For example, we may try to defend ourselves by over explaining ourselves, justifying or persuading to control the way other people view us. We try to control people, feelings, and events because our natural instinct is to want to be proactive in making our lives better while not realizing how much anxiety it brings on. Control is the easiest way to shake ourselves out of equilibrium and prevent mindfulness. We have to be willing to accept what life throws at us with love, compassion and grace. Learning how to accept and navigate through difficult and unfortunate circumstances is vital if we want to live a happy, mindful life.
It is important to close by say that what it means to be mindful won’t happen overnight, and it’s not a cure-all to solving life’s problems. In fact, mindfulness is not going to solve any of your problems. What is does do is to help you navigate through life’s shitty times and the complexities of the human experience full of emotions and disappointments. It helps regulate the emotional ups and downs and prevents you from reacting to unfortunate events and circumstances that life throws at you. Practicing mindfulness is your gift to the world because we already have enough wounded, hurt people walking around taking their pain out on innocent bystanders. Check your emotions and accept them for what they are rather than allowing them to control you and your imprint on the world.
Be the change. Practice mindfulness.
Questions for you to ponder:
- Now that you have a better understanding of what it means to be mindful, are you implementing these principles into your daily life? And if not, where can you improve? (Be honest but without judgement)
- What judgements do you have of yourself or others that you need to let go of in order to live authentically?
- Are their areas of your life where you let the opinions of others lead your decision making rather than trusting your own intuition?
- Can you point out areas in your life where you try to control people or situations rather than practicing acceptance?