Start your mindfulness journey part 1: what is mindfulness?
Chances are you’ve heard this term mentioned more and more. Chances are you may also be confused as to what “mindfulness” really means, and how to practice it.
For many, simply hearing the term “mindfulness” can immediately evoke intimidating images of sitting cross-legged for 8 hours or exhibiting superhuman flexibility in imposing yoga poses. While it can indeed become very deeply involved and nuanced, mindfulness is actually quite simple to get started with and accessible to everyone and anyone.
This practical, quick-start guide is for those who are looking to explore mindfulness, but are having difficulties getting started with their mindfulness practice.
This first part breaks down more of what mindfulness means.
The second part will go over several methods of practicing mindfulness, including specific examples beyond yoga and meditation that can help you get started in your own mindfulness journey.
What is Mindfulness?
To begin, “mindfulness” is:
“The practice of learning to be fully present”
Understandably, you may be just as confused by the phrase “be fully present” as by the term, “mindfulness,” so here is a break down of what being fully present means in more concrete terms:
Letting go of what has already happened in the past
For example, being able to let go of anger and pain that arose when a relationship with a significant other did not work out. Being mindful in this case would entail letting go of those emotions so as not to consume energy in the present by obsessively repeating to yourself things like:
- The fact the breakup event happened (obsessively looping over and over again on this fact or a memory film-reel from the relationship)
- How we wish the breakup hadn’t happened (or how things could have turned out differently)
- How we won’t be able to have a successful new relationship in the present, because that relationship in the past didn’t work out and this means there is no hope for us
It is very difficult not to get stuck obsessing about the past, especially when we feel diminished or upset about what happens to us in life. To practice mindfulness, however, means to practice accepting what happened no matter how much we may wish for an alternative reality, so that we can let it go and focus on life in the present reality.
Letting go of trying to control what may or may not happen in the future
For example, being able to do our best in an upcoming job interview and let what will be, be. Being mindful in this case would entail not obsessing over anxieties like:
- How much we need or want the interview outcome to be in your favor
- How crushed we will be if you don’t get the job
- How the interview is a litmus test for how smart or capable or valuable we are
At the end of the day, the reality is that we cannot control life. We can’t force someone to like us, or to give us a job, or to desire us. Practicing mindfulness requires us to be content with just doing our best and then accepting what happens to us. Resenting what happens to us and stressing over what may happen to us are both not mindful habits — they both take us away from being fully present.
Being mindful doesn’t mean not thinking about the future, either. Considering what we can do now or in the future is an important part of living healthy and happy lives. The point at which thinking of the future becomes harmful is after we have given our future actions sufficient contemplation and our thoughts become obsessive, going over and over again about what we plan to do or could do, or simply stoking our fears or anxieties.
After a certain point, the more that we obsess about the future, the more diminished the return in present value terms our future contemplations generate.
Accepting our life circumstances and life situation in any given moment
So much of life can be spent wishing for more or what other people appear to have; but no matter how much we wish for things, we cannot control whether we will get them.
For example, no matter how awesome it might be, I am simply not as good-looking, rich, or suave as George Clooney. So, to be mindful, I must accept that and refrain from going down a thought path lamenting how you aren’t George Clooney’s doppelgänger, or resenting George Clooney for his looks and style.
Being mindful could also mean accepting that, for instance, I am not as attractive as my best friend who gets more attention from those you are attracted to than you do. Being mindful in this case would involve accepting this reality without creating feelings of inferiority or jealousy, and instead learning to feel comfortable and confident in my own skin as I am and decide to not rest my self-esteem on the attention or validation of others. It is mindful to enjoy and explore what we’ve been given, create our own style and be the best we can be; that is, so long as we’re doing it for your own enjoyment, and not our ego’s.
Accepting that we cannot ultimately control anything that happens to us in life
For example, accepting that, no matter what we do or how hard we work, there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves, your children, or our loved ones from ever experiencing pain in life. Being mindful means doing our best in life to live healthily and happily, and then accepting what happens as it does. To be mindful is to accept our inability to control life, which is key to not resisting what happens to us and obsessing about the past.
Rather than resisting life (that is, feeling like we can’t accept certain events in life), being mindful means letting go of resistance by accepting all events — even those we don’t like. In doing so we can avoid unnecessary, self-produced suffering, and deploy the energy that would have been devoted to resisting life in more positive directions.
Realizing that, while we cannot control life, we can control your perceptions and actions in response to life
For example, understanding that we have the power to decide whether to be upset or angry for just a moment or two, or instead for hours or days after something happens that don’t like. For instance, after a long day at work, if my car window was broken and my bag stolen from the seat inside, the reality is that there was nothing I could have done to ultimately prevent the break-in; and if I had happened to park somewhere else and avoided the break-in, then there would be some other “bad” event in the future that I didn’t know how to prevent and which will happen to me.
Being mindful in this situation would involve feeling the anger or other feelings that initially arise, but then letting those feelings dissipate and not continuing to think angry or other negative thoughts, so that I can avoid being consumed by negativity and instead keep on living my life, free of the suffering my continued resistance to frustrating events would create.
Not judging or rejecting ourselves or our thoughts.
This entails learning to accept ourselves in any moment — unconditionally — so that we can be free to make decisions that truly align with our intentions and are unhindered by negativity such as guilt, shame, sadness, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, or other stress or painful feelings.
For example, this means not rejecting the sad feelings that arise when we lose something or someone important to you. Sad feelings are not perceptions, but are a part of life and a normal reaction to life events. Being mindful means accepting that our sad feelings are a part of us, too, and allowing them to be present with us when something makes us sad.
To be mindful does not mean trying never to feel sad. Being mindful means both not rejecting our sadness (this is beyond our control) and refraining from creating more sad thoughts or perceptions beyond our initial reactions (this is within our control).
If we can practice these two things — not immediately repressing our negative feelings when they initially arise while also not strengthening the negative with more, similar thoughts or perceptions — then the negativity will eventually dissipate. While we will be sad or mad or fearful again in the future, we won’t be prone to obsessing over and identifying with negativity, and we won’t block ouselves from being happy again, too.
Although there are many other aspects encompassed by the practice of mindfulness, this should be enough food for thought for you to contemplate for now.
Continue your journey with part 2, and learn how to practice mindfulness, including alternatives to yoga and meditation.
Stay tuned for more learnings on mindfulness, and how to discover more happiness, love, peace, energy, and meaning in life through the power of mindfulness.
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