Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment.
It is both a lifelong practice and a daily habit.
Founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) practice, Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “The awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”
While it sounds simple, when we actually start paying attention to our minds we will notice that most of the time our minds are scattered, and wandering all over the place. We have a very hard time sustaining attention on the present moment.
Mindfulness is not a silver-bullet. But whenever I speak with people who have integrated a mindfulness practice into their lives, the phrase they use to describe it is: life-changing.
Here are 4 practices you can bring into your life to live more mindfully every day:
1) Practice being curious
One of the essential attitudes of mindfulness is beginner’s mind.
Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions when learning something new or doing something for the hundredth time, just as a beginner would.
Having a beginner’s mind is as if you are engaging with something as if for the very first time.
People who practice mindfulness bring this attitude with them throughout the day.
In fact, research shows that novelty is one of the fastest routes to creating new neural connections in the brain. New experiences can help us to become more mindful.
Curiosity leads the mindful person to get back in touch with the wonders and possibilities of life. When we pay attention, we see beauty where we didn’t notice it before.
2) Understand that all things come and go
Knowing that change is constant, is a key aspect of mindful living.
When we listen we hear how sounds appear and disappear. When we look outside we see how over time the seasons change.
We noticed that children are young, and then grow up and become older.
We understand that emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant, come and go as a natural part of life.
Everything is in the process of becoming something else.
As we practice mindfulness, we no longer grasp onto things. We come to understand that change is a constant part of life.
3) Learn the art of acceptance
Mindfulness isn’t about being happy all the time. It’s about acceptance of the moment we’re in and feeling whatever we feel without trying to resist or control it.
We spend a lot of our day fighting the present moment, rather than accepting it. Our thoughts are full of ‘I like this’ and ‘I don’t like that’ and ‘I want more of this’ and ‘I want that to go away.’
We miss out on experiencing the present moment when we spend our energy constantly judging it. With mindfulness, we accept what is present. Because that’s what is. You can acknowledge what you are feeling and allow it to be as it is.
It’s not resignation — it’s simply recognizing and accepting what is right now. And then we have a choice.
We have a choice in how we respond to what is happening in the moment. We can choose to respond with intention, rather than react. We can make wiser choices.
By ‘being with’ life’s challenges in a mindful way, the highly mindful are able to remain centered and calm in the midst of it all.
4) Realize that you are not your thoughts
With mindfulness we learn that thoughts are not reality. They’re just thoughts. They’re passing mental phenomena.
Mindful people consistently monitor and observe what’s going on in their minds. They pay attention to what thoughts are arising in the mind but they hold them lightly.
Instead of getting caught up in the thought vortex, we can recognize, and watch a thought arise and dissipate. Through this kind of self-observation, we are able to step back and watch the mind instead of being swept in its current.
Any time you watch thoughts, you are being mindful. Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can, especially any repetitive thought patterns.
As you listen, you’ll soon realize, ‘I am not my thoughts.’
With mindfulness, you discover, as Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “that there is a way of being, a way of looking at problems, a way of coming to terms with the present moment… that can make life more joyful and rich than it otherwise might be.”
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