By Robyn Beckman
We are being gifted with the opportunity right now to come back to what’s important. Connection with people; connection with self. To slow down, wake up and discover who we are and notice our interconnectivity with the world. We can actually PAUSE and reflect and take notice of how we are spending our time. See if we can let go of some of the constant distractions that keep us from discovering who we truly are and direct our attention and energy to what brings us joy, fulfillment, contentment and purpose. With all the stress of the constant “to do” lists, we can easily become unconscious and act on constant auto-pilot, losing sight of our intentions, purpose, what’s important and what is ACTUALLY going on. We are human beings – we are not human doings, yet, we aren’t really taught how to “be”, are we? What would it be like if we can learn to be aware of and be with whatever is arising in any given moment or situation, instead of turning away from, suppressing or distracting ourselves with busyness?
Mindfulness is: “Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and surrounding environment – through a gentle, nurturing, non-judgmental lens”. It involves acceptance; meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them – without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.
Reframing How You Think About and Respond to Situations Can Alleviate Stress
So much of stress stems from our thoughts about situations, rather than the situations themselves. Much of the time, we are very far from present. Instead, we tend to be lost in our thoughts – thinking about things that happened in the past or that may happen in the future. Often these thoughts run continuously in the back of our minds — like a running commentary — and we usually don’t even realize this is happening. However, this process can have a huge impact on our stress levels.
Mindfulness is a practice of directing attention in a particular way —non-judgmentally paying attention to your experiences in the present moment. It sounds simple, and in truth it is. However, it does require a commitment to remembering to practice and doing it.
To clarify, mindfulness is not about trying to stop having thoughts or changing your thoughts. Rather, it’s simply about recognizing when you’re “thinking” (e.g. worrying about something that might happen in the future, regretting or ruminating about the past) and then directing your attention and coming back to the present – to what is happening right here, right now. You don’t need to engage with the thoughts or the constant narrative running in the mind. Lightly say something like, “It’s just that same train of thought again” and then imagine gently setting the thought upon a leaf floating downstream. Let it float gently away as you remain present at the stream’s edge. With regular practice, this kind of mindfulness can rewire the brain and make it easier to focus your thoughts where you choose, rather than where they automatically and unconsciously take you. It gets easier the more you do it.
To help cultivate and build mindfulness throughout our days and lives
We exercise our brains to come back to the present moment using Mindfulness Meditation. There is a GREAT TedTalk called “All it takes is 10 Mindful Minutes” by Andy Puddicombe, Co-Founder of the “Headspace” app that explains Mindfulness Meditation. It’s definitely worth a watch!
You can use apps to learn to meditate that provide guided meditations and instructions and they are very helpful. Some of the great apps are Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, 10% Happier or eM Life. I will also provide some simple instructions at the end of this article.
Here’s how practicing mindfulness works:
Focus: Begin by bringing your attention to your experience of the present moment. The best way to do this is to focus on your senses. For example, start by focusing on the experience of your breath – focus on how it feels in your body as you simply breathe in and out. Not thinking about the breath – but experiencing how it feels.
Distracted: After a very short time, your mind will most likely become distracted and start thinking about stuff. You will probably become distracted before you even realize you are distracted. This is completely normal.
Awareness: Eventually you’ll become aware that you are no longer experiencing the breath and your attention has been drawn into thinking and you are distracted from fully experiencing the present moment. Note: the breath is always happening in the present moment, always with you and it’s free – so that is one of the reasons I like to use my breath as an anchor to the present moment.
Redirection: This is a critical step. Without judging yourself for having become distracted or for the content of your thoughts, just label them as “thoughts” and let them go and come back to experiencing the breath.
And the cycle begins again…
The point of the practice isn’t to stay focused on the breath the whole time. The point is to become more aware of your thoughts and to learn where your mind goes when it gets off track. You might go through the cycle several times a minute, and that’s perfectly okay and normal. The progress comes from practicing going through the cycle of focusing, getting distracted and then re-focusing on the breath. With practice, this becomes easier.
Are You Ready to Try It?
A Note about the Meditation Session:
I usually begin and end my meditation with a bell. I do this for a few reasons. First, it’s a nice way to set “meditation time” aside, marking the opening and closing of the practice. I also find the sound of the bell to be a helpful thing to focus on. As you know, mindfulness practice is all about tuning your attention into your experience of the present moment through use of the senses. Mindfulness bells tend to ring for an extended period of time; if you listen carefully, they can sound like they go on forever. It can be a fun practice to see how long you can stay focused on the sound of the bell.
This isn’t just about developing the skills to be a good meditator. Meditation is really just a means to an end. Practicing mindfulness is much like exercising at the gym — it prepares you for living life outside the gym more fully. Mindfulness practice prepares you to live life itself more fully.
Setting Your Mindfulness Practice Intentions
Set a realistic time goal for your mindfulness practice over the next week or so. Start small – with as little as two minutes a day and slowly work up to five, ten, twenty minutes. Consistency is more important than length of time. Choose to meditate in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Instead of trying to “fit in” the time to meditate, schedule it before or after another activity that you already do every day. If you have time for social media or watching TV, you have time to meditate.
During these stressful and uncertain times, practicing mindfulness with a community can soothe anxiety and stress, and help promote well-being, compassion and resilience. If you are curious about starting or restarting a meditation practice, join one of my online classes at www.mindfulnesswithrobyn.com.
Or, if you are having trouble getting your practice to evolve from something on your “to-do” list to a truly sustainable habit, consider signing up for a week or two of mindfulness accountability coaching with me. I’ll help you gain more clarity about what goals you really want to achieve. Then, we will break those goals down into manageable steps and put them into action. I’ll help you build on what works and learn from what doesn’t work. Nothing you do can be seen as a failure if you can learn something from it to set yourself up for success next time.
Robyn Beckman | firstname.lastname@example.org