What is Mindfulness?
It is a practice where we can cultivate awareness of the present moment without judgment. It is the ability to be completely present, to pay attention to the world around us as it truly is - not as it was or as we hope it will be in the future. It gives us space to learn acceptance, surrender, and peace.
Sounds like a complete win - win situation, right? Well… if you’ve ever tried to keep your mind from skipping merrily to tomorrow’s to-do list or stop it from traveling back in time to when you were five and some kid called you ugly… you know that mindfulness isn’t exactly something that always comes easily.
There’s also the not-so-tiny fact that sometimes the present moment simply sucks. We find ourselves not wanting to be completely in the moment when something life-altering is happening. We’d rather be anywhere but in that moment. How exactly does mindfulness help us then? How can mindfulness give us peace and happiness when the thing we’re paying complete attention to is really painful?
We must remind ourselves that feeling pain might not be what we want… the pain might not be what we expect… but we can experience it without judgment. We can approach the awareness of the situation with an open heart - simply watching the pain. Noticing its existence. Letting it be. From moment to moment. Understanding that we might not always be perfect at it, but that it is in the practice of mindfulness that we can begin to find complete surrender.
Surrender to the fact that we probably do judge a lot of our world - a lot of our experiences. Learning not to beat ourselves up because we’re understanding something as “bad” or “good” in that moment is a large part of living a mindful life. Letting the judgment pass, and refusing to hold onto the story we’re telling ourselves is equally as important.
When looking at the world through mindfulness, you begin to see everything, to do everything, to exist as if for the first time, knowing that nothing lasts forever.
Mindfulness allows us to stop obsessing. It allows us to stop controlling. It lets us know that all is well. And in knowing that we don’t have to control everything, we can finally find who we really are. Paying attention to what is, accepting what is, and knowing that we get to choose what we focus on releases us from taking the events of our lives so personally. Essentially, we can be free.
So how do we actually practice mindfulness as we go through life?
Here are ten ways you can begin to implement more focus and presence every day.
1. Stay in the present moment.
There is no rule that says you have to be doing a million things at once. No where in the nonexistent life handbook is there a statement that tells you to worry about everything that has yet to happen.
One of my favorite quotes says something like, “Worrying is using your imagination to create the worst case scenario.” I don’t remember who said it, but those words have really stuck with me. If I can simply stay focused on what’s happening right now, I don’t have to be concerned with tomorrow just yet. I don’t have to try to manipulate the future. I can simply observe my current situation, and engage with it in a way that is the best for my wellbeing.
Staying in the present moment gives us so much freedom, so much space to be who we really are. If you’re driving, just drive. Don’t get caught up in what you’ll say once you get to your destination. Simply drive. Feel the vibration of the seat. Appreciate the texture of the steering wheel. Observe what kinds of cars are around you. Feel the pressure of the pedal. Roll down the windows and feel the wind against your skin. It’ll be the best drive you’ve ever had.
2. Don’t analyze the situation.
What happens if you’re driving and all of a sudden you run into ridiculous traffic? You check your GPS and realize that you’re definitely going to be late. You begin to get frustrated. You wonder if there’s a way around the traffic. Alternate routes? Carpool lane? Getting out of the car and running down the freeway? If you’re anything like me, you’re already getting tense just reading this. What happened in this example? Imaginary you got caught up in a result that hadn’t even happened yet. You haven’t made it to the destination yet, there is no reason to be upset or worried about what people will think once you’ve arrived late. At the present moment, you’re simply sitting in the car. Once you begin to analyze the situation, you’re creating an imaginary outcome.
What if you could simply sit in the car? What if you could wait to find out what will happen at your destination instead of predicting the horror of being late?
3. Accept that there is only so much that can be done.
You can’t control everything. You can’t go back in time and change anything. These are not bad things. These things help you experience life in a full and uplifted way. If you can simply accept that the moment is what it is, and this is neither good nor bad, you eliminate so much stress and worry from your experience. You free up your time and energy to participate in life. You can learn to focus on the very moment in front of you. Stop judging yourself. Stop limiting yourself. You can’t do it all, and this is a great gift.
4. Trust in something bigger than yourself.
Have you ever wondered how “successful” people achieved their goals? Have you ever wondered how happy people got so happy? Sure, there is effort involved. Maybe the knew the right people, were raised the right way, had all of the right circumstances… But what about the people who had none of those things? What about people who seemed to achieve against all odds? Many of them say there was a moment in which they took a leap of faith. Many of them talk about believing in something bigger than themselves. They might talk about it in many different ways, the Universe, God, the law of attraction, because they were driven by some goal for the greater good… whatever it is, its something that helps a person focus outside of themselves. They trust in something bigger. They’re driven by something more than just the end result. They know that there are things that are outside of their control that help them find their way.
Trusting in something bigger than you lets you focus on your tasks. You don’t have to worry about the how. You don’t have to get overwhelmed by the details. You know you’ll be taken care of. You know the work will be worth it. You know the present moment is worth more than just the experience of having it.
5. Find beauty in every moment. Even the horrible ones.
People take issue with mindfulness sometimes. They wonder why anyone would want to stay present in a painful moment. They want an escape. They want to disengage from things that suck. But mindfulness isn’t about chasing positivity. It’s about experiencing the present moment in all of its glory. Because we learn from everything that happens. We expand our consciousness when we experience more in life - good or bad.
There is beauty in breaking your toe if you’re willing to be open to it. There is beauty in realizing that you don’t like a particular thing or a certain person. When you stay in the moment, not in the analysis, you can start to see positivity in the horror. Choose beauty. Choose possibility. Choose to learn. Choose to have an open heart.
6. Stop labeling everything.
You don’t have to decide what something means in this moment. You don’t have to say whether something is good or bad if you don’t want to. You don’t have to say whether you’re enjoying something or not. You can just allow life to unfold. You can observe. You can watch. You can exist. You can breathe. But you don’t have to label. You can say, “I’m not sure.” You can let something be ambiguous. And you can feel good about the ambiguity.
7. Take action if necessary, and then move on. No grudges.
Some moments will call for you to do something. You’ll be called to react to certain situations. And in that moment, you’ll do the best you can. But when your action is over, when the conversation is over, the meeting is done, the interview has finished, you walked the dog, you cut your hair… when the action is over, let it be done.
Don’t go back. Don’t wish for a do-over. Don’t become frustrated because you wished you would have done it differently. Don’t let someone else tell you you could have been better. You did the best you could. You learned. You were in the moment. You tried. And next time you are called to act, you’ll do it with new knowledge. And that’s all that matters. No grudges. No regret. Acceptance. Only acceptance.
8. Surrender to what is.
In one of my favorite interviews, Oprah speaks to author and coach Iyanla Vanzant. They’re discussing the meaning of surrender. Iyanla says that the interesting thing about surrender is that people think it looks like you’re giving up and caving in, but in reality surrender looks like opening up your arms ready to catch what’s yours.
So it’s time to open your arms. It’s time to be open to what’s coming your way. Surrender to the flow of life. Let yourself experience the beauty of life’s gifts for you.
So much of surrendering depends on our ability to shift focus. How do we determine what we focus on? Our focus is simply our view, our lens through which we see our lives. Our focus is determined by what we pay attention to. What we pay attention to can be steered if we take time to be present and align ourselves with the present moment.
One of my favorite ways to align myself with the present moment is to write about it - to journal. When we're writing we're completely tuned in - we're focused on one word at a time. We are in flow - one thought leading to another and on and on. So if you're looking for a way to help you shift focus to the present moment, if practicing mindfulness is difficult for you, this 3 Week Mindfulness Printable Journal is a resource that will help you pay attention to the present moment once a day. It will help you practice mindfulness consistently. It will help you pay attention to the world around you in a beautiful way.
9. Focus on one task, one activity, one thought at a time.
Our culture has an obsession with being busy. Our culture has an obsession with accomplishments and shiny stickers. We compete with each other about who is doing more, who is doing better, who is more recognized… and we sometimes decide out worth based on those ridiculous comparisons.
But we don’t have to.
We can focus. We can be present. We can do one thing at a time and trust that it will all be okay. We can drop out of the competition into our truth. We can live the way that works for us. We can love being so focused and driven. We don’t have to be number one in anything. We don’t have to beat everyone else. We don’t have to impress anyone. We can be with our present moment. We can think about the running water in the shower without thinking about what clothes we’re going to put on when we get out.
One thing at a time. One breath at a time. One moment building upon another.
10. Embrace being surprised.
Go into each situation, each experience with as few preconceived notions as possible. When we think we know everything about how something will turn out, we cloud our experience with a readymade attitude. But if we simply let life unfold, and observe the world around us with wonder and interest, we can give ourselves a break from trying to figure it all out.
If you’re going to start a painting class, or a new school, or a new job, or stop at a new restaurant try not to expect anything. Invite curiosity to hang out with you for the day. Begin your thoughts by saying, “I wonder how this will turn out.” Even if you’re going to do something you’ve done before, accept that each day your experience can change. The horrible dance class might not always be horrible. The bad family dinner might be really fun next time. At the very least, we might be able to pay attention to good aspects of the evening simply because we are open to it all - the good, the bad, and the in-between.
We can breathe deeply, knowing that we don’t need to know it all before it happens. We can bring excitement and joy back to our days because we invite surprises and unexpected emotions into our lives.