Why Mindfulness?

I’m preparing this morning for the start of another Mindfulness and Yoga class and thinking about the impact of this practice on my life. Mindfulness is the practice of attending deeply and exclusively to the present moment or task, no matter how dull or exciting it might be. It means committing to staying present mentally, and redirecting your attention when it begins to wander. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness, he describes this process as “washing the dishes to wash the dishes”. And not washing the dishes so you can get it out of the way and move on to having your tea. Mindfulness is simple, in the sense that it can be practiced anywhere, at any time. All you need to do is notice all that you can about the present moment. 

For example, right now it is 9:30am. I am sitting on my couch writing. There is sunlight coming through the windows and splashing across the couch and floor. I see plants, books, records, shoes, small areas of disorder in my living room. I notice that my breath is steady and even. I am warm, relaxed, safe. I hear noises from traffic outside. I live near a busy intersection. There is a constant sound of cars driving through the green light, stopping at the red light. I find these sounds familiar and comforting. I have tea that I am sipping slowly while I work. My mind is calm. Seeing things as they are, in this moment, that is mindfulness. And when I become absorbed in my work or my writing, and I cease to notice the traffic sounds outside my house, this is also mindfulness. This is single-pointed awareness or focus on a particular task. I’m not rushing to finish, or wishing I was doing something else. I’m simply doing, being. 

In my Mindfulness and Yoga class, I teach techniques that can help you find this state, and remain in this state throughout your day. Or at the very least, help you notice when you are not in a state of mindfulness, and help to bring you back. Meditation is the number one tool that we use for our mindfulness practice. It’s basically conditioning for the brain. In meditation, you can’t stop the thoughts that rush into your brain. But you can be selective about which thoughts you engage with. As a simple meditation, I ask students to place their attention on their breath. When thoughts or likes/dislikes arise in the mind, you decide in that moment whether or not you will engage in that thought. Will you get ‘hooked’ or pulled in? Or will you let that thought pass through, and redirect your focus on your breath?

It can be helpful to write down your thoughts when you start your meditation practice. You might notice a pattern, or a recurring theme to your thoughts. We often follow the same stream of thoughts, especially in a day-dream. It can be a comfort, replaying the same scene over and over. It can also reinforce habits or thought patterns that are no longer useful. Seeing what these thoughts are, and the ways in which they are distracting, can be helpful in moving forward with a mindfulness and meditation practice. 

And you don’t even have to wait to learn more about mindfulness and meditation to begin practicing. Take a moment now. Sit up a little taller in your seat, close your eyes. Take 10 slow breaths. Try to keep your attention on your breath. After 10 breaths, open your eyes. Keep your breath steady and relaxed. Take in what is going on around you. Sights, sounds, smells. Try not to assign judgment, such as “my house is such a mess” or “I love the smell of coffee”. Just notice. And breathe. 
And after some time, you might notice that your capacity to focus increases. Your recreations to people and situations are moderate. You begin to see things how they are, not how you wish them to be. You see yourself in the world as part of the whole, rather than the center. And a greater richness opens up in your experiences and relationships. Mindfulness can change how you view yourself and your world, and as a result, increase your sense of well-being. The process is simple, yet profound. Start today with just a few minutes.   meditation cushion
Here's my meditation corner at my home.