“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Mindfulness is all the rage these days and you probably have heard of it from time to time in the media. I have only casually looked into this subject, but have found that I have been achieving benefits (when practiced) without knowing what I was doing.
The practice of meditation is a correlated activity. I don’t practice a specify style of meditation, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
By incorporating mindfulness in daily life, even casually, can increase mental clarity and focus, reduce stress and contribute to an overall feeling of well being. This is important because our lives are filled with stressors (kids, bills, work, traffic, the neighbors dog barking in the middle of the night, etc.). If you want a feeling of calm and focus, try to add mindfulness into your routine.
[I feel a disclaimer is warranted. I’m not an expert in these fields, this is only my personal experience.]
If you are anything like myself, you go through life only half aware of what is happening at any given moment. I call this “auto-pilot.” Life can be fairly routine when you get up, drive to work, work all day, drive home, cook dinner and go to bed.
With a life like that, we don’t dwell or often even consider our existential place in the universe, meaning, we don’t think about needs and values and our role in the world. Further, the more hectic life becomes, stress increases and adverse health impacts also increase. A practice of mindfulness can help counteract that process.
SO WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness is generally described as a conscious awareness of our current experience. We generally are aware in any given moment of what we are doing, but this would be a particular conscious effort to be aware.
Psychology Today defines mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
Mindfulness has traditional roots in the contemplative traditions, but has had some clinical research to back it more recently, with statistically significant results. (See: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 2003, Vol. 84, No. 4, 822–848) here).
Mindfulness in my observation is used fairly broadly to incorporate meditation, yoga, contemplation and so forth.
MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION
Meditation has a long history and is practiced in many different ways in many cultures. Sometimes it has spiritual implications (quite often), but I am not a proponent of any particular faith practice. Meditation more and more, especially in Western culture, is practiced in a secular context.
What are the benefits of mindfulness in general, but meditation specifically? How about less stress? How about increased focus and productivity? How about a feeling of being more centered? That and more, including increased overall health by decreasing the negative impacts of stress.
A few years ago I took up meditation after hearing well known people like Warren Buffet and Oprah practicing it regularly. I tend to carry my stress and anxiety internally. This led to general ailments such as insomnia, agitation, poor mood, poor mental clarity, bad general outlook on life, cynicism etc.
After researching methods of meditation, I determined I wasn’t going to go to a weekend seminar or course or other expensive option, although I’m sure they are more effective. What I settled on was a system that was simple and easy to use and provided meaningful results.
Basically what I did was:
1. Find 15 minutes to sit comfortably in silence without distraction and close my eyes
2. For the first few minutes I would take slow, deep breaths and try to relax my muscles and calm my mind
3. Once I was calm, I would just try to “blank” my mind by not actively thinking any thoughts. Of course if you are me, your mind is in a near frenzy constantly. Don’t worry about it. Simply let the thought go when you become aware that you are distracted and concentrate on the darkness. I wouldn’t judge my thoughts, focus on them or feel bad if I wasn’t totally thought free (you can’t be)
4. Sit in this state, intentionally relaxed, trying not to hold onto my thoughts for about 10 minutes or so
5. Slowly become more conscious of what I was doing, breathing and preparing to become aware of the world again
[Note: some practices have a mantra that you repeat in your mind, such as “Om.” Many will say this is critical to meditation and it has a deep history and philosophy behind it. I do find it helpful to find a word to repeat in your mind, as it helps dwelling on distracting thoughts. For me, its “peace”, because that’s what I want to feel. Find what works for you.]
At first I did this for a few days, once in the morning and once at night. However, although the benefits increase over time, results come immediately.
Some of what I experience right afterwards is a sense of calm relaxation. My senses are clearer, colors are more vivid, I’m aware of more of what is going on around me. Generally it sharpens the senses. This feeling would stay with me for hours, feeling less stressed and more open to working with more focus.
At night, this calm would allow me to fall asleep quicker and more peacefully.
I can see how a significant percentage of highly productive, high achievers incorporate meditation/mindfulness daily. It is a powerful tool that will greatly help you cope with an ever more demanding world.
I use this practice when I am particularly stressed and am trying to do it more regularly, because of its benefits.
MORE DISCLAIMERS (Boo!)…
Okay, I feel like I should add that this is not meant to be a post to teach how to meditate or imply that this is the best form of mindfulness. It is only a form that I have used to benefit me in my own life. You may find other practices of mindfulness helpful.
BACK TO THE MESSAGE (Yay!)…
I have not used yoga as a mindfulness practice, but I intend to do so. I know many people who benefit from this as well. The point of all of this is that life can be challenging and the stressors on us are real, and have real negative impacts. It is important to lead a healthy life if we want to achieve maximum fulfillment from it.
To end this rambling message, I will conclude by encouraging everyone to incorporate some form of mindfulness into their daily routine. The benefits are immediate and profound. Who doesn’t want to be more relaxed, less stressed, more focused, more ‘available’ to others, more alive?
Moreover, this is not some hippy practice (not judging!), it is backed by real science showing proven results.
CHALLENGE: You know what to do! Try being mindful over the next week and let me know how it goes.
For more information, I did find an article worth reading here.