Have you ever driven your car somewhere and arrived at your destination only to realize you remember nothing about your journey? Or started eating a packet of chips and then suddenly noticed all you had left in your hands was an empty bag? Most of us have! These are some common examples of ‘mindlessness’ – A state that can be referred to as being on ‘autopilot.’
When we slip into autopilot our attention is absorbed in our wandering minds and we are not really ‘present’ in our own lives. We find ourselves in such tunnel vision or engaging in overthinking that we’re simply not fully ‘there’ in the moment. In this busy, mentally demanding and many times emotionally draining world we live in it’s all too easy to lose ourselves in autopilot for much of the day….every day.
Living this way we often fail to notice the beauty of life, the lessons and blessings in struggle, many times fail to hear what our bodies are telling us, and we all too often become stuck in ‘traditional’ or mundane ways of thinking and living that is not only counterproductive but may even be harmful to ourselves or others. On autopilot we tend to get lost in ‘doing’ so we find ourselves constantly striving and struggling and ‘getting stuff done’ instead of really living.
We also become vulnerable to anxiety, stress, depression and reactivity.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. It means waking up out of autopilot and ‘taking the steering wheel’ of our mind (subconscious and conscious) and energy. We practice mindfulness by maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves non-judgment, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings with the attitude of an impartial witness — leaving room for clear interpretation. Mindfulness is paying attention; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
There are three specific ways in which our attention ‘shifts gears’ when we practice mindfulness:
Firstly our attention is held…
- On Purpose
Mindfulness involves the conscious and deliberate direction of our attention.
When we’re on autopilot our attention is being swept up by a never ending (and not always positive) current of thought processes but when we’re mindful we ‘wake up’ and step out of that current, placing attention where we choose. Another way of saying ‘on purpose’ is consciously. We are living more consciously, more awake, more fully ourselves when we pay attention in this way.
Secondly our attention is immersed…
- In The Present Moment
If we leave it to it’s own devices our mind habitually wanders away from the present moment. It constantly gets caught up in the replaying the past and the projecting into the future. In other words, we’re very rarely fully present in the moment. Mindful attention, however, is completely engaged in the present moment experience – the here and now. We let go of the tension caused by wanting things to be different, the tension of constantly wanting more, and instead we accept the present moment as it is and give thanks for the moment.
And third, our attention is held…
- Non Judgmentally
When practicing mindfulness, we’re not aiming to control or suppress or stop our thoughts.
We simply aim to pay attention to our experiences as they arise without judging or labelling them in any way. Mindfulness then allows us to become the watcher of sense perceptions, thoughts and emotions as they arise without getting caught up in them and being swept away in their current. Becoming the watcher in this way, we’re less likely to mechanically play out old habitual ways of thinking and living. It opens a new freedom and control in our lives.
How To Practice Mindfulness?
There are two forms of mindfulness practice. The first is the formal practice of mindfulness, which is commonly referred to as meditation. A meditation practice is commonly done sitting, usually with eyes closed, but can also be done lying down or even walking. Some meditation practices also involve mantra (sound) or movement.
The informal practice is the rest of your life! Anything we do in daily life with full awareness can be said to be mindfulness practice. You can take a hike mindfully, garden or go for your morning walk mindfully. Any routine activity can be made into a mindfulness practice when you bring your full attention to it. Pay attention to the breeze as you hike or walk, look at the trees, listen to the sounds you hear around you. Really pay attention to how the soil feel as you plant your seen and observe the ecosystem in your garden.
What Can Mindfulness Do For You?
Mindfulness is no longer so far-fetched. Today, it is practiced by millions of people across the world. It is now being taught in schools, in workplaces, in hospitals and in homes all over the world. As people continue to discover for themselves the incredible benefits of living mindfully, the interest continues to increase.
There is now a huge body of research on the benefits of mindfulness. Here are some of the proven ways that mindfulness can benefit you…
- Mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety and other destructive emotions
- Mindfulness actually shrinks the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.; this is the part of the brain responsible for so many destructive emotions like fear, unhappiness and anger.
- Mindfulness reduces depression (clinical trials are showing that mindfulness is as effective as medication with no side effects!)
- Mindfulness reduces insomnia, increases your sense of well being, reduces lethargy and increases energy both mentally and physically.
- Mindfulness is also very effective for pain management.
- Mindfulness sharpens your memory and increases your focus and attention.
- Mindfulness improves your emotional and social intelligence and develops your empathy and compassion.
- It is also shown to improve relationships.
- Mindfulness improves health and boosts immunity. In fact, mindfulness is shown to have beneficial effects on many serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease
- Mindfulness creates clearer, more focused thinking and improves efficiency at work and at home.
- Mindfulness improves confidence and emotional resilience
- Mindfulness reduces compulsive and addictive tendencies and has also been shown to work better than any diet for effective long-term weight loss.
- Mindfulness turns out to also be the single most important determining factor in whether you will be happy in your life (once your survival needs are met).
In other words, the more mindful you are the happier you are. Mindfulness can literally transform your entire world from the inside out and for the millions of mindfulness practitioners around the world it’s doing just that! If you haven’t already, why not find out for yourself, the first hand, what it’s all about? You might just discover the most incredible and wonderful surprise. That everything you’ve been searching for ‘out there’ — feelings of fulfillment, peace and wholeness — have been within you all along.