Lately, mindfulness seems to be mentioned everywhere. It’s the new buzz word in pop culture. But what is mindfulness? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as a noun: the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. More simply put: mindfulness is being aware and seeing what we learn from being aware. It’s more than just living in the present moment. It requires the powers of observation, in addition to awareness. We can be lost in thought about something in the present moment without realizing that we are thinking. When we practice becoming an observer of our thoughts, instead of getting lost in them, we see them for what they are, just thoughts. And although these thoughts might have nothing to do with our present reality, when we aren’t mindful we allow them to dictate our emotions by listening to the stories they create. We can stop following the thought threads into the past or into the future and become aware, instead, of what is happening in the moment. This observation gives us extra perspective. It opens up possibilities for investigation into our reality, which can lead to a richer, more joyful experience of life.
So how can mindfulness help us? When we cultivate a state of mindfulness in our lives, we begin to see the incessant chatterbox of the mind for what it is, vapid and untamed. We can get behind the thoughts and observe them without judgment. This allows us to see the events in our lives without our filters tainting them. Think back on the last time you were frustrated, maybe it was an aggressive driver that caused you to be fearful on the road. In that moment of frustration, you begin to give legs to your story. The thoughts in your head begin bombarding you with statements like this: How dare they? They’re a nuisance to society! Or they shouldn’t be doing that…and so the story goes. Mindfulness in practice might look like this: I consciously remind myself to observe the anger I’m feeling in the moment from the careless driver’s actions. And then, because you cannot control the actions of others, you simply let go of any further thought threads about the frustrating guy. When you let go of the thoughts, they no longer hold any power. The fabric of the story falls apart.
Mindfulness is a skill. The more we practice, the more neural connections we make in our brains. The more these neurons fire together, the more they wire together. Fortunately, life provides ample opportunities to practice mindfulness. The perfect place to start is with the mundane. Attend to your chores with your full attention and resist the impulse to follow your thought threads. The results of this practice are that we begin to see our reality clearly, without filters. We begin responding to the events in our lives from a calm, centered open space and we increase our capacity for peace in both our inner and outer worlds.