What is Mindfulness?

And 3 Mindfulness Practices You Can Use to Take Your Power Back!

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Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D.

So often in spiritual circles we are told that we need to learn to “control our minds,” but that phrasing misses the mark to me. Our real project is not to learn to “control our minds,” but rather to learn how to consciously and intentionally focus our awareness within the mind. It might sound like I’m being nit-picky, but it’s an important distinction. Everyday our minds leap from feeling-to-feeling and thought-to-thought, and that isn’t a problem; our job is not to stop that process from happening. The problem is that many of us pay very little attention to the way our minds work; so we operate in autopilot, unaware of the roller coaster ride we are taking. 

I’ll give an example from a talk I watched this week by a former monk, Dandapani. He asked everyone in the audience to close their eyes while he invited them to recall certain memories in their lives. First, they were asked to recall their first kiss, then a favorite meal they ate recently, then a time when a loved one died. At the end of the exercise, he pointed out that with the audience’s permission, he was able to control how everyone in the room felt and what they thought. This is a perfect example of how many of us live our lives. We go through our days, allowing other people and circumstances to control how we direct our energy and attention.  

 When we do this, we give our agency away to outside people and circumstances. But, as one of my fav. yoga teachers always says, whenever we give our power away, we can always take it back. 

 Mindfulness, to me, is about taking your power back. Once you start being conscious of your thoughts and feelings, you can start to learn to intentionally direct your energy toward what you want, and the areas of your life that you water, will grow.

 So what do you do now? Here are three steps you can take to start to bring mindfulness into your life and start to take your power back! 

 

1.    Learn to concentrate: wash the dishes to wash the dishes  

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How many times have teachers, parents, bosses, etc. asked us to concentrate? Probably a lot! But, isn’t it strange that no one has ever taught us how?! We have learned distraction because we have been taught distraction! 

So, the first step is to start to learn how to focus your mind, and meditation is by far the best way to do this, but the great news is, meditation comes in many shapes and forms! Of course, you can practice the traditional seated meditation, but you might find it easier to start to incorporate a meditative mindset into your daily activities. Thich Nhat Hanh calls it: “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” Practice doing one task at a time, and be sure that you are completely present for that task (not reminiscing about the past or planning for the future). If your mind wanders, gently guide it back to the task at hand.

2.    Observe thoughts and feelings with a spirit of curiosity

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We experience thousands of thoughts and feelings each day, and our job is not to stop that from happening, but rather to start to notice ourselves as we move through each thought and feeling. So, for example, if you find yourself becoming angry during a traffic jam. Instead of being carried away by the anger, find a quiet, calm voice inside of you that notices the anger arising. Maybe say something like this to yourself: “Oh, that’s interesting, this traffic jam is really getting to me.” With time, this practice will help you gain more control over your reactions: you will start to notice your thoughts and feelings before you respond. 

 

3.    Breathe . . . Just Breathe

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The breath is a powerful tool to calm our minds and bring peace. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, he writes:

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.

Here are a couple of simple breathing techniques: 

  • Take deep, slow, steady breaths. Take a deep inhale through your nose, then exhale through your mouth. Try to keep your inhales and exhales even in length and depth. Repeat as many times as necessary. 

  • Count your breaths. This one is kind of like breathing meditation. Breathe naturally, but count your breaths on each exhale. When you start to lose count, gently guide your mind back to the breath. 

Was this helpful to you? Do you have any other simple, practical mindfulness techniques to share? Let me know in the comments!

With my heart,
melanie