Have you had these experiences?
- You arrive at a certain place and can’t remember anything about how you got there.
- Someone is talking to you and at the same time you are completely somewhere else making to-do lists in your head.
- You’ve eaten a full package of cookies and you only realize this when there’s not one cookie left.
As human beings we have this mental mechanism built into our system that allows us to “zone out”. Sometimes going into autopilot mode can be very useful, especially when learning a lot of new tasks at the same time. For example, in learning how to drive a car it’s very good to let our feet move from the gas to the brake pedal somewhat automatically, so we have more mind space to be aware of the traffic around us. However, when we are stuck in this way of being we lose touch with the actual experience and life is passing by without us even living it really.
Unfortunately this is the case for many people living in our fast-paced society nowadays. You might be one of them. We live under constant pressure, stress and high expectations from others and ourselves. Multitasking is seen as a great asset and the more stressors you’re able to handle in one moment, the better. At the same time, because of all this stress and things to do, our minds are very often clouded by thoughts, feelings, and preoccupations. Negative thoughts, worries, fears and anxieties are ruling our minds completely and causing a lot of suffering that we don’t want to feel. As a result we’re slowly transforming into unaware robots, living in the past or future with 24/7 overworking busy minds. We’re unable to be present. Our feelings and our hearts have completely lost the connection with who we truly are in essence.
How can we make our minds a little bit less full and really engage in life as it is right now?
We become mind-less by practicing mindfulness. By learning how to be mindful we are able to disengage from autopilot, step out of our train of thoughts and fears and become fully aware of the here and now, which is important if we want to be able to enjoy life in the present moment. By observing the present moment just as it is, we are able to stand still and just watch all the craziness around us, without being caught up in it. Finding peace in the midst of the storm. It brings us back from being a human doing towards being a human being and reconnects us with who we really are.
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment, which is also the basis of any form of meditation. A lot of research has been done on the effectiveness of mindfulness and it has been found to be a key element in happiness. It has its origins in Buddhism, although most religions include some type of prayer or meditation technique that helps shift thoughts away from the usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment and a larger perspective on life. However, mindfulness doesn’t have anything to do with religion. It’s very down-to-earth and practical and everyone can learn it. In fact, we are all born in a very mindful state. As babies we don’t have any worries, there are no worst-case scenarios or automatic pilots. Babies just are and undergo life as it is, in complete awareness of what’s going on in the present moment. But as we get older our minds become bigger too and we slowly lose the connection with whence we once came.
The magic trick is to get out of the mind and back into the body. If we start to pay true attention to where we are and what’s going on, the first thing we reconnect with is the body: our breath and our senses.
How can you cultivate mindfulness in your daily life?
Of course you can chose to do a full-on mindfulness training, but often we lack time and space in our busy schedules to do this. More importantly see if you can integrate the essentials of mindfulness into your daily routine in order to create more peace of mind and to be free of suffering. Also you don’t need a guru to learn how to be mindful. And it shouldn’t be complicated. The world itself is already. Therefore we need simple, human tools that bring us back to the essence of our existence.
Being mindful is nothing more than being truly, fully and really aware in connection with the present moment and giving that all of your attention, no matter what you do. You don’t have to sit in a yogic meditation position for this. You can do it everywhere: while driving in you car, washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, doing any form of physical exercise or talking with somebody. Take every moment as an opportunity to connect with life as it is right now.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, see if you can take these three somewhat simple steps with you in living a mindful life:
- Concentrate on what’s happening around you. Open up your senses. Listen to the sounds around you. Become aware of the smells in the air, the sensations on your skin, the taste in your mouth. Take a moment to really see the things that are around you.
- Focus only on your present moment. Bring your awareness inside. What is happening for you right now? Become aware of all the physical sensations within—your emotional state of being. Observe your breath.
- Come from a place of acceptance and compassion. Let go of all the judgements about anything you notice. Don’t label things as “good” or “bad”. Just notice them and let them be. See if you can just hold the space of whatever is going on. Remember, everything is okay the way it is.
Letting go of the mind and creating space in the body system within takes some time and effort so if I were you I’d begin sooner than later. There’s no time like the present to begin mastering the ability to be in the now.