Mindfulness: The Art of Living in the Now
Have you ever heard of mindfulness? In Asian societies, it has been common to practice meditation for thousands of years. This discipline is guides the practitioner to finding spiritual balance. It was introduced into Western societies during the seventies.
Mindfulness, also called full attention or consciousness, is one of the practical applications of meditation. It is used in psychology as a way to cope with problems of stress, anxiety, and depression.
“Don’t detain yourself in the past, nor dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
What exactly is mindfulness?
In order to understand this practice, we have to consider it’s context — its Buddhist roots. In general terms, this philosophy considers life as a set of pleasant and unpleasant feelings. It teaches the definition of attachment — our attempts to try to stay in pleasant states of being or avoid unpleasant ones — and shows us how attachment causes suffering.
Consequently, the solution to suffering is found by trying to embrace life as it is, accepting both the good and the bad in a way that frees us from tension and moves us closer to a state of being calm.
In order to reach this state of mind, Eastern cultures practice different forms of meditation. Mindfulness is a branch of meditation, and in the West it has been adapted as a way to improve states of relaxation that help to resolve problems of stress, anxiety, and even depression.
In practice, mindfulness consists of remaining quiet and directing the attention to breathing, concentrating on the breath, and accepting each and every thought and feeling that arises within the body and mind, within this quiet period of concentration. Take a mental note of each of these sensations, but let them go just as they came without doing anything with them.
“Don’t try to expel thoughts. Give them space, observe them, and let them go.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn-
How can this practice be applied to daily life?
Many who practice mindfulness practice breathing exercises daily for about 40 minutes. However, there is a form of putting the idea of full consciousness into practice in everyday life that also has psychological benefits. Here’s an example:
Imagine you are eating breakfast. The usual routine would be that, while you eat, you are thinking of a thousand different things: what your workday will be like, your grocery list, the conversation you had last night with your spouse, etc… Or maybe you are trying to multi-task by eating breakfast and reading the newspaper at the same time, or texting on your phone.
To put mindfulness into practice, you must pay full attention to what we are doing in the present. In our example, that is eating breakfast. You can do this by following these instructions:
- Decide, for the amount of time you want, that you are only going to only eat breakfast and nothing else, and truly experience that present moment, without distractions.
- Just once, with your coffee and toast (or whatever your breakfast may be) in front of you, become aware of the thoughts you have that have nothing to do with the act of eating breakfast. Acknowledge them in your mind and accept them, but do not become “entangled” in them. Instead, just come back to the action of eating breakfast.
- Concentrate on the experience of your senses. Direct your attention to the flavors and textures of what you are eating, the temperature of your kitchen (or wherever you are eating), and whatever sensations you may have in your body, but do so without judgement. In other words, don’t try to determine whether it is hot or cold, but rather simply take a mental note of how your senses perceive this reality. Be conscious, without judgment. Breath slowly and steadily.
This practice can be applied in any area of daily life: while you are showering, cooking, driving, or just sitting at your desk at work…
With this practice, you will be more able to direct your full attention to the present moment in uncomfortable situations. It will also help you to resist the temptation of making judgements. For example, if you get stuck in a traffic jam, or waiting in line at the bank…
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Scientific studies have demonstrated that the practice of full attention reduces levels of stress and anxiety and helps fight depression. This is because these afflictions, in large part, have to do with our mind focusing on the past (out of regret, nostalgia, or thinking “what would have happened…”) or on the future (worry about what will happen or longing to be in a hypothetical future). Either way, this devalues and disregards the present moment; the only moment that is actually real.
Mindfulness is centered on training the mind to stay in the present. It focuses on the affect of what we feel, without regret, frustration, or expectations. These three factors are important, because they are the fundamental elements of anxiety and depression.
“The future tortures us and the past enslaves us. And there is the reason of why the present escapes us.”
By training yourself to live in the present moment, and not only just enjoying the positive (the flavor of your warm, buttered toast), but also accepting the negative (the suffocating heat of summer), you will discover a certain serenity that you have always had inside. This will help you to confront the obstacles and inconveniences of life from a place of internal peace.