I mentioned the idea of practicing mindfulness to a client the other day and he responded with "what is mindfulness?" The question made me smile and think.
I realized that not long ago that I used to think meditation was mindfulness. Yes, meditation is a form of mindfulness, but it is also important to distinguish between them because most of us don't have the luxury of living out our days like monks, but all of us can benefit from integrating more mindfulness into our daily routines.
We can think of "mindfulness" as an umbrella term for the practices of paying attention on purpose with kindness. This can be done formally (through a specific type of meditation, such as bringing awareness to the breath) or informally (such as simply being engaged, open, and curious in a moment of interaction). Someone can embody the trait of mindfulness without ever having practiced meditation.
Certainly, creating the time to practice meditation can have a powerful impact on our state of mind and well-being (I swear it feels like the insides of my eyes have been washed when I open my eyes after meditation: everything is brighter!), but there are other ways to bring more mindfulness into our days.
Ultimately, mindfulness is about our well-being. Practicing it regularly also benefits the well-being of those around us. Next week, I'll be sharing 5 ways to cultivate more mindfulness into your day, but first let's define what mindfulness is and what it isn't:
intentionality in being attentive
openness to be present and honest with what is happening in the moment
observing what is happening rather than trying to control our experience
Mindfulness is NOT:
competition with ourselves or others
battling with our mind to "quiet down"
a panacea for what ails
a luxury reserved for the privileged
This distinction, while obvious for some, is important to name because it was not obvious to me when I started practicing 10 years ago. I'll consider it a public service announcement to share that in college, I suffered from severe depression. I still struggle with anxiety. I share because creating cues throughout my day to compassionately attend to what is happening inside helps.
Intentionally noticing what we are perceiving has the power to transform our perceptions through the process of noticing. Being open to what is happening, not fighting it, has empowers us with more choices.
These choices did not always feel available me, so I want to acknowledge that if you are struggling through something that you do not feel equipped to move through alone, please resource yourself. You are not alone, but you do need to make the choice to feel that way by taking aciton.
One in eight women experience depression in their lifetime. (I can only imagine that number is rising for many reasons and I believe the number of men effected is not accurately represented due to stigma and other factors.) Please do not let shame stop you from seeking to make the changes your higher self is calling for, like I did.
It took years of therapy for me to begin feeling like I had more tools and choices for navigating my healing journey. After ten years of focused work, I'm better, but some days I still feel... off. Practicing mindfulness through various cues (which I will be sharing next week) is what makes the off days feel better and the on days feel like I'm living my wildest dreams. I want that for you.
While I'm still very much a mindfulness student, steady student mode pays off. Embracing these practices has had a profound impact on my happiness and health. I am no longer depressed. I am no longer debilitated by anxiety. I am no longer overweight. I am now more excited by life than scared of it. Changes like this are available to you.
Understanding this accessibility was a huge shift for me. Ten years ago, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the changes I needed to make, but what I didn't know was that the magic of transformation occurs through small, incremental changes...bolstered by faith and the patience to persist. This knowing is what comforts me through the unknown now.
Next week, I will share 5 paths for cultivating more mindfulness in your existing routine. I'm excited to share them with you because practicing these in-roads to mindfulness changed how I experience life. I hope they will do the same for you.