Living Mindfully: Taking Life One Moment at a Time
The human mind is typically one step ahead of us, anticipating what might happen, forecasting our future - or two steps behind, focusing on the past, revisiting missed opportunities, feeling old emotional wounds, or enjoyable moments that slipped away. But sadly, looking backward or forward can cause us to feel disconnected from the present…and quite often takes a toll on our sense of aliveness. As we move from childhood through to adulthood, our language becomes more sophisticated and we have processed an abundance of life experiences. Consequently, we live mostly in our heads, and miss the here and now. Being mindful, living in the moment, cultivates our ability to pay attention to the present moment.
When we become mindful, we realize that we are not our thoughts…that we are an observer of our thoughts, without judging them (good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair), clinging to them, or pushing them away…just letting our thoughts be there. Accepting our thoughts relieves us from needless, extra suffering.
Resulting from the large body of research showing the relationship between mindfulness and health and wellness, over 250 hospitals around the country, and more around the world, are using mindfulness to help patients manage distress from anxiety, depression, pain, and more. Here are some of the benefits of cultivating a mindful, nonjudgmental awareness of the present:
- Enhances mood regulation and immune system, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, and helps patients cope with cancer.
- Increases clarity of mind, balance, energy, and zest for life.
- Boosts our awareness and can reboot our minds so that we can respond to life in a more thoughtful, rather than automatic, way.
- Decreases aggressive impulses, as it reduces the involvement of our ego.
- Helps us stop attaching unpleasant experiences to our self-esteem. Removes the tendency to self-evaluate and get “lost in our mind”, where these evaluations can beat us up.
- Improves complex problem-solving and decision making.
- Increases emotional intelligence by reducing automatic reflexes.
- Enhances leadership capabilities.
To help you find relief from the dangerous trap of focusing precious energy on futile projections into the future, or ruminating over the past, here are some ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life:
- Instead of assigning judgment to your morning cup of coffee or tea, simply use your senses to savor all of the present qualities of the coffee or tea – the aroma, the taste, the temperature, the appearance of the coffee or tea in the cup, and how the cup is being held. Notice how soothing this morning ritual can be. Be present with your coffee or tea. Be thankful.
- When you are in the shower, instead of organizing your day, worrying, or ruminating about recent disappointments – become entirely engaged in the sensations all around you. Notice, without judging, the temperature of the water, the feel of the water stream, the smell of any soap products, and the feel of cleansing cloths/brushes on your skin. Enjoy the time that you are spending nurturing your health.
- As you walk to your car or other transportation, check in with your body and notice any tension. Try to soften it.
- Try driving to work a little slower, letting red lights be reminders to just notice your breathing.
- As you walk to the office, breathe in and out with every three steps. Notice the sensation of walking, how carefully your feet are being placed one in front of the other.
- As you sit at your desk in the morning, take a few relaxing breaths before checking emails or updates.
- Whenever possible, eat meals in a mindful way – awakening your senses, and noticing the magnificent colors, flavors, textures, and healthy qualities of the food you are eating. Eat much slower, relax and breathe between each bite, put your fork down between bites so that you are not loading the next forkful to eat as soon as the previous bite has been swallowed. If you need a reminder, place a decorative sign close by that says, “Eat Mindfully.”
- Instead of waiting until you get home to relax, use the commute home from work to move into a state of mindfulness, focusing on the journey (not your destination), being present with your breath, or listening to comforting or uplifting music.
- When you go for a walk, take in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature – savoring one tree at a time, one single leaf, the bark on the tree, the beauty of one single flower - just notice the life and the beauty around you.
Life unfolds in the present. People who can embrace this concept are happier, more exuberant, more empathic toward others, and more emotionally secure. They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their weaknesses. If you are ready for a “new way of being in this world”, think about ways that you can embrace the present moments of your life, not letting them slip away unobserved and unseized.