Mindfulness—it’s a word most of us hadn’t even used five years ago, and now, we see and hear it on a regular basis. Some people claim that mindfulness is the secret key to solving all of life’s problems, and you might be wondering if this is really true. What’s so special about mindfulness, and why is everyone talking about it?
What Mindfulness Is
Mindfulness is all about bringing yourself to the present moment—not stuck in the past or anxious about the future. It’s the process of connecting your awareness with what’s around you. It fuses your body and mind and allows you to observe the beauty and miracle of everyday life. Mindfulness leads to better mental health and spiritual wellness.
Mindfulness and meditation are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other. When you are mindful, you find rest and relaxation even in difficult situations. In a previous article, we wrote: “Mindfulness is about observing what’s happening in your body and mind and not passing any judgment on it. If you’re stressed, mindfulness isn’t supposed to empty your brain of that stress. Rather, mindfulness helps you tune into that stress and respond calmly.”
An important distinction to make is that mindfulness is not a quick fix, a silver lining, or an escape. In fact, it’s often more difficult to stay mindful when your first response is to emotionally shut down. But dedicating yourself to practicing mindfulness in difficult moments brings much better results. When you turn to unhealthy outlets, your feelings may subside for a while but they always come back. When you turn to mindfulness, your feelings are felt as long as they need to be and then they shrink away. The practice has other obvious benefits:
“The benefits of mindfulness are many. One of them is (1) it benefits your whole nervous system and body, because you're letting yourself know that you can relax and still be alert at the same time, and there's a calm that develops in your being. And another benefit of mindfulness would be (2) emotional intelligence. As you look at your inner experience, you begin to understand your emotions, your thoughts. As you look at those and begin to meet them, you understand and think about your relationships, and connections with work, and the world. And so I feel like it has far reaching effects that start inwardly. The ultimate effect, I would say, would be on (3) how you live day to day with your decision making, and with your how, and your purpose. Because mindfulness helps you clear through what's in the way of just being in your purpose.”
All is Sacred, Connected, and Infinite
There are three spiritual principles to understand when you’re learning about mindfulness in everyday life:
- All is sacred.
- All is connected.
- All is infinite.
When you believe that all is sacred, connected, and infinite, then you value all your experiences and feelings equally. That doesn’t mean that you need to love being sick in bed the same way you love a night out with your friends. It just means that you see both experiences—good and bad—as productive to your development as a human being. It means that you don’t run from negative emotions or distract yourself from stressful situations. Mindfulness allows you to just be, to experience the interconnectedness of all things. And you are part of that connectedness. Thich Naht Hanh, an influential Buddhist monk, wrote in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness:
“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.”
Think of some of your everyday routines. What has become mundane, what parts do you dread? Perhaps mindfulness could help with that.
Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a separate practice from your everyday life. In fact, it’s most powerful when practiced during normal, even boring, tasks. Thich Nhat Hanh also wrote:
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
“We tend to perfectionize our self-care. We want immaculate rainbow bubble baths, beautiful hikes that aren't too challenging, and a peaceful place for an undisturbed meditation session. We like to build boxes around our meditation practices, claiming that a certain time or space is the only environment where we can successfully slow down. And while it's good to prioritize time to nourish your soul, it doesn't have to look just one way.
“Visualize, just for a second, a stressful scenario from your daily life. It probably seems like the last place in the world you'd choose to meditate. The very idea of practicing mindfulness feels silly, doesn't it? You feel anxiety mounting in that space behind your forehead, between your eyes. Your body stiffens. You notice the tension and then think to yourself, Ah, I can't wait for my [insert mindfulness meditation practice here] tonight. I'll finally be able to calm down.
“But what if you meditated in real-time, right then and there? What would happen? How good would it feel to watch the stress melt away? Why wait for later? Waiting to meditate until it's ‘time to meditate’ contradicts the very purpose of mindfulness. When you do that, you are pushing your peace into the future, rather than beckoning it to the present moment.”
While there are benefits to having a sacred space to practice spirituality, you don’t need one to have an enlightening experience. There’s no need to wait to be mindful in the future. Take a deep breath. And another. If you’re interested in a short guided mindfulness exercise, follow this link (you won’t regret it).
Practice Mindfulness Now: Where to Start
Even though you can practice mindfulness anywhere, it’s useful to have some examples and extra help. Here are some ideas inspired by our previous articles:
● Prayer. “Prayer in itself is a type of mindful activity. It allows the individual to sit in the present moment, focus on the matters at hand, and accept our thoughts and feelings. Prayer welcomes those pesky voices and thoughts and lets them flow about freely. You can surrender your thoughts over to who you are praying to, taking the weight off of your shoulders. Praying mindfully will give you space where you feel grounded and safe.”
● Eating. “Eating mindfully is a practice to help you appreciate and enjoy food—all the flavors, textures, and scents that make up a delicious dish. When you eat mindfully, you eat with gratitude, slowness, and no distractions.”
● Meditating. “Mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist teachings and focuses on paying attention to our thoughts as they pass through our minds. When we can bring awareness to what we are directly experiencing in a given moment, we can experience mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to the breath and creating awareness around the body and mind.”
● Walking. “Most of us will walk the same paths hundreds of times. You might start to feel like it’s repetitive, the same old thing every day. But mindfulness will make you realize that things around you are actually changing from day to day. The smell of flowers in the spring is different from the smell of snow in the winter. One day you may hear a motorcycle, the next a laughing child. Have you taken the time to notice individual leaves on that huge tree above your head? Your daily walk can become exciting when you open yourself up to mindfulness using all five senses.”
● A bedtime routine. “Mindfulness makes you aware of the things you can easily ignore when you aren’t paying attention, like that slight crick in your neck that you’ve had all day or the residual anger you’ve felt in the back of your mind. It allows you to connect to your spiritual side. And your spiritual side helps you disconnect from what’s not serving you. When you drop the stress and frustration of everyday life, you’ll find it easier to relax and have quality sleep.”
If you like being led through mindfulness meditations, the While You Work series on the Skylight app has six short guided mindfulness exercises, ranging from doing the laundry to taking a bath. Each video is only fifteen minutes long, and they’re designed to help you stay mindful during your everyday activities. On the app, you can also try a mindfulness facial or forest bathing.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to try out mindfulness, and Skylight has made it easy for you.