It seems like everyone is talking about being mindful these days! From “how-to” magazine articles to “feel-good” stories on the evening news, mindfulness is generating quite a buzz! So, what’s it all about? Is it for me? Will mindfulness enhance the quality of my life, and can I teach myself how to incorporate the principles?
With all of these questions in mind, I decided look for a clear definition and purpose for mindfulness. I thought I could do a quick Google search, but I soon discovered there were variations in meaning, depending on each website I visited. I wasn’t looking for articles that correlated mindfulness with an ancient religious practice or a certain type of clinical therapy. I was searching for information pertaining to the recently popularized “mindfulness movement."
My online search led me to a plethora of information that took some time to fully digest. You see, mindfulness is not a technique with step-by-step instructions; it’s a state of mind.
Mindfulness is a way to purposefully connect to our own lives by cultivating our attention on our thoughts, emotions, or experiences moment-by-moment without passing any kind of judgement. (Did you get that?) It means paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally! You can think of mindfulness as being fully present in the moment.
While mindfulness might seem simple, it’s not necessarily all that easy to do. We are taught from an early age to develop our capacity to think, but mindfulness centers on developing our capacity of awareness. It’s not about what you’re paying attention to, it’s about sharpening your focus and training your brain to be more aware.
In a video entitled, “What is Mindfulness?,” Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn points out that as human beings, our brains tend to spend a huge amount of time worrying about the future or reminiscing about the past. With this preoccupation, the present moment tends to get completely squeezed out! Kabat-Zinn goes on to say that in order to reclaim our lives, we must learn to pay close attention to our mind and body in the “present” without judgement because the “present” is the only time we are truly alive in our bodies and capable of learning, communicating, expressing love, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching, etc.!
As we become more present in our own lives, mindfulness can help us make better decisions and become more engaged in life. Studies show that mindfulness increases focus, creativity, happiness, and overall health. It can also help us learn to appreciate the present more fully, which is really all we truly have! The real work is to make time every day to practice the art of mindfulness.
Here’s a short practice to get you started:
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it’s the perfect time to practice being mindful! Here are a few suggestions to help everyone enjoy a “Mindful Thanksgiving?”:
1. Practice Giving Thanks and Gratitude
Before the traditional prayer or grace is given, take turns finishing this sentence:
“This past year, I have been thankful for _________.”
2. Eat Mindfully
Ask guests to take a moment to view the beautiful bounty on the table and enjoy the wonderful smells in the air. Then, encourage everyone to truly taste and savor each bite by eating mindfully. Express gratitude for those who prepared the meal, as well as those who grew it and the earth from which the food came.
~Contemplating your food for a few seconds before eating in mindfulness can bring you much happiness.—Thich Nhat Hanh
3. Talk—and Listen—Mindfully
Listen mindfully to any conversation during the meal. Focus on the person speaking and really hear what they are saying instead of assuming you know how the story will end or thinking about what you are going to say in response. Be aware that the mind tends to hear what it wants to hear rather than what is actually being said.
“Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”