The other day, I asked a group of women entrepreneurs what being mindful meant to them.
"...doing things with intention, not on autopilot."
"...it's paying attention to everything I do and doing so with intention, love, and grace..."
"Being fully conscious of every thought, word, and action."
I think words like intention and conscious and awareness, are all characteristics of mindfulness.
Here's a definition:
a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
But how exactly can we practice this in our lives? How can we bring about intention and consciousness and awareness in such a chaotic, loud world?
My Brush with Mindfulness
Mindfulness was first formally introduced to me by yoga teachers.
I was practicing it on the mat whenever I went to a class and had a teacher cue for me to become aware of what was present.
"Be mindful of ... Mindfully [insert action]..." says my yoga teacher.
Mindfulness was when I noticed my breath, when I noticed the side stretch, when I felt my jaw tighten in a difficult pose, when I became aware of the air touching my skin...
But once I woke up from savasana, I left mindfulness in the studio with me. I'd go back to mind-full-ness, to my autopilot mind, to my racing thoughts, and emotional turmoil.
Some time later when I picked up meditation, I learned how to be mindful with physical stillness. I learned how to watch my thoughts float by in my mind sky. It was great.
But once again, after the bell chimes and the meditation session is over, I'm back to the autopilot mind. I'm back to freaking out and thinking about a million things at once. My emotions overwhelm me, my stress picks up, and I find myself looking forward to the next time I could visit a yoga studio.
There's nothing wrong with making time to visit a yoga class or meditation class. Both are wonderful investments for your personal development.
But I was getting tired of having a taste of mindfulness, and then going back to how I was before: stressed, overwhelmed, and reactive.
I wanted to become a more mindful being. I didn't want to limit myself as a mindful yogi or a mindful meditator; I wanted to be a mindful person. I didn't want to be that asshole who could back bend and balance in studios, but couldn't be a good person in real life.
How I turned my Flirtation with Mindfulness into a Serious Relationship
Somewhere along the way, I learned that it's all about habits.
Going to the yoga studio is a good habit to have, but I think becoming more mindful in general is a greater habit to have. Let me explain... I began to bring mindfulness and "mindful vibes" into my life. I took two elements from mindful based yoga and meditation with me: my breath and my sensations.
No matter where I was, whether it was in the middle of traffic or at a party with strangers, I took it upon myself to notice how my breath was doing. By doing this, I was able to gauge my stress levels pretty fast. (If you're feeling stressed or anxious, your breath will likely be shallow and short in length.) All of a sudden, I had this deep relationship with my breath that allowed me to find that sweet taste of mindfulness even in otherwise uncomfortable situations.
Gradually, I began to notice my sensations in everyday life and allowed myself to experience them. I'm sitting or standing, and I'd be really present in the position. I'd notice how my back curves along the chair or how my feet feel on the hard floor. In mundane activities I began to notice too, I notice the water falling onto my skin, covering me in its smoothness as I shower. When I'm having an awkward or difficult conversation, I can feel my heart beat faster and my stomach churn. When I feel calm and at ease, I can feel my shoulders drop and my jaw release tension.
My stress, overwhelm, and reactiveness became smaller and more manageable as I became more aware of my breath and my sensations. On some days, I feel complete clarity and deep peace of mind. By practicing simple elements of mindfulness, I learned mindful living.
I'm not quite married to mindfulness (there are things I'm still learning to notice and take in), but I've learned that I can be quite engaged to mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the New Happiness
In a world where people are chasing for eternal bliss and the cult of positivity rules, I say screw it.
Stop chasing the next thing. Pause and tune into yourself and your surroundings. There's so much about life you didn't know you took for granted, unless you allowed yourself to experience it. I'd say even the unpleasant things you may notice is interesting. [Oh, the things I could say about my own experiences on mindfulness, depression, and trauma!]
Mindfulness is the new happiness. I don't mean that in only a catchy way, either. Research shows that people who are more mindful are happier than those who have wandering minds.
So what's the catch? The catch here is that mindfulness is downright hard.
That's why mindful activities like yoga and meditation are practices. But I believe compared to chasing happiness, practicing mindfulness can be more sustainable.
It's about habit.
What mindful habits are you willing to add into your life?