The focus: Distractions, stress, and overbooked schedules can disconnect us from our lives and work.
The opportunity: Mindfulness can help you to improve focus, reduce stress, and stay connected and engaged at home and on the job.
The solution: Use these mindfulness tips and resources to help you be fully present and aware without being overly reactive and overwhelmed.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness has become a worldwide movement that has the "attention" of leaders, corporations, health care organizations, schools, professional sports teams, and individuals from all walks of life. But what is it? And what can the practice of mindfulness do for us in our personal and professional lives?
Let's start with a definition. There are dozens of definitions of mindfulness out there today. The one I'm working with right now goes like this:
"Mindfulness is being fully present, aware of where we are at and what we're doing, with an interested and accepting attitude."
Mindfulness is all about paying attention, but it's paying attention in a very specific way. Most of the time, we tend to be somewhat (or a lot) unaware of where we are and what we are doing in the present moment. We are highly distracted in the present, lost in our thoughts about the past or future, or emotionally stressed out due to our busy and hectic lives. Our minds are often divided between where we are and what we're doing right now and all of the distractions, thoughts, and emotions that are simultaneously competing for our attention. Much of the time we are running on auto-pilot mode as we multi-task our way through the day.
On top of all of this, we have a running commentary in our brains from that little voice that is always giving us opinions and offering advice on any and every thing that we experience. Some of us (like me) have entire committees giving us their input, whether we ask for it or not. It's a wonder we're not all completely insane!
STARVING FOR ATTENTION
The truth is that most of us are not entirely sane. We lead stressed-out, hard-driving, non-stop lives. We are driven to produce accomplishment after accomplishment, which causes us to fill every available space in our calendars. In our "spare time," we consume vast quantities of information, entertainment, alcohol, drugs, food and sex in order to relieve stress and feel better about our lives. We generally live isolated, disconnected existences and there are few opportunities to create meaningful relationships with others. Of course, these are generalizations and there are plenty of exceptions. But the fact remains that we live in a time when we are literally starving for attention - the right kind of attention. Attention that is fully present, aware, interested, and accepting. Mindfulness can provide the nourishment and sanity many of us are looking for.
MINDFULNESS IS AWARENESS ITSELF
In the purest sense, mindfulness is really awareness itself. It is our natural human capacity to be conscious of ourselves and our surroundings. This kind of awareness is always present, it is always interested, and it is always accepting. Mindfulness is more specifically the awareness of this awareness within ourselves. If you can simply be aware that you are aware, then you've got it. That's it. That's the essence of mindfulness. The only problem is that this makes absolutely no sense at all to most of us before we realize it for ourselves. That's why practicing mindfulness on a regular basis is so important to understanding what it is and realizing the benefits it has to offer. And practicing mindfulness is mostly learning to be ok with just being.
BEING VS. DOING
In our society, we place tremendous value on what we do. We demonstrate that we are doing a lot by staying busy. And time is a commodity for us. We "spend" time, "save" time, and "waste" time. The busiest people are often seen as the most valuable, and the person with the fullest calendar wins. The first question that we ask each other when we meet for the first time is usually, "What do you do?" But is what we do really who we are? To some extent, but it's not the complete picture. There is a lot more to us than we what do, and mindfulness practice can help us reconnect with something much deeper and more substantial - our sense of being.
"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability
to sit quietly in a room alone."
- Blaise Pascal
Being is not doing, and we have all but lost touch with our capacity "to be" even for a few minutes at a time. This is a root cause of stress, discomfort, unhappiness, addiction and insanity. Our constant drive to be doing something, producing something, or consuming something is an endless cycle of distraction and dissatisfaction. We can never get it all done and one is never enough. When we stop long enough to look closely, we realize that this is true. Mindfulness is all about reconnecting with ourselves at a deep and meaningful level, where there is no pressure to do anything special. Mindfulness is about getting comfortable with just being.
THE GIFT OF PRESENCE
To get the benefits from mindfulness, you truly must be present to win. But without learning how to be present, and learning to be comfortable while you're there, you will not experience the deep sense of connection and relief that comes with practice. Like anything new, mindfulness takes time and effort to learn. The good thing is that you already have what you're looking for. Mindfulness is something you already possess. It's a matter of uncovering this type of awareness, magnifying it, and applying it to your life. With a little hard work, dedication, and a lot of letting go, you can expect to experience many of these gifts from mindfulness practice:
BEGINNING A REGULAR MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
There are tons of resources to get you started with a regular mindfulness practice. If you have any interest in mindfulness, I suggest you just do it. Reading about mindfulness, studying it, and researching its benefits are all wonderful - but it's not the same as doing it. We fool ourselves all too easily if we think we can understand mindfulness without practicing it on a regular basis. Here are some steps to get you started!
FORMAL MINDFULNESS - MINDFULNESS MEDITATION (10 to 20 mintues daily)
*You can also follow along with the guided "Mindfulness of the Breath" meditation below.
1.) Set a timer for 10-20 minutes. Find a place that is relatively free from distractions. Sit comfortably in an upright chair or on the floor. Make sure that your back is straight and that your spine and neck are supported. You should be alert but not rigid. Give yourself permission to be here now. You can close your eyes or keep them opened and softly focused.
2.) Take several deep breaths in and out. On the in breath, you may want to quietly say in the back of your mind, "peace." On the out breath, you can say "stress." Continue breathing in "peace" and breathing out "stress" until you feel that you are mostly present and centered. Give your attention to this meditation session in a way that is genuinely interested and accepting of whatever happens.
3.) Begin to breathe normally. Pay attention to where you feel the breath as you breathe in and out. Do you feel it at the tip of the nose? The back of the throat? The chest or abdomen? Also, notice the temperature of the air as you breathe in and out. When is it warm? When is it cool? Wherever you notice the breath most strongly, keep your attention there as you continue to breathe normally.
4.) The mind will wander. This is normal. To help your mind stay focused, you can softly say in the back of your mind, "breathing in" and "breathing out." Each time your attention wanders, simply return to the breath by using these words along with noticing where you feel the breath most.
5.) Continue breathing normally and keep coming back to the breath when your mind wanders. We all get lost in our thoughts and stories during meditation. The important point is that you keep coming back to the breath. Every time you return to the breath is actually a moment of mindfulness. Avoid criticizing yourself or trying too hard to figure this all out. Practice makes progress.
6.) When your timer goes off, return your attention to the space where you are seated. Take one or two deep breaths and then go about the rest of your day, bringing a little more mindfulness into everything you do. You may want to journal about your experiences following your meditation sessions to deepen your practice and to review your progress over time.
INFORMAL MINDFULNESS - MINDFULNESS IN DAILY TASKS (as often as possible)
Along with meditation, it's important to practice mindfulness as a part of our daily tasks and routines. Try one or two of these informal mindfulness practices per week and as often as possible each day. Simply keep your attention on the task itself, and when your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the task.
If you would like help bringing more mindfulness into your life and work, CONTACT me to schedule a free 30 minute session to see if coaching could be right for you.
Click below for an 8-minute guided meditation covering mindfulness of the breath.
Listen to my Blog Talk Radio interview about mindfulness with host Sharissa Sebastian.
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