Today we’re going talk about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a really popular concept these days, but not a lot of people know what it is, and even if they do know what it is, they don’t necessarily know how to use it in their daily life.
What is mindfulness? There’s lots of different definitions out there, but the one I like the most is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s. He’s really one of the founders of the mindfulness movement. He’s one the people who brought it into western culture and into medical research and all of the rest of that. He defines mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. What do the three of those mean?
On purpose means that you’re not just noticing things without intention behind them. You’re purposefully paying attention to the way that you feel, the way things are in the world, things like that. In the present moment means now. There’s a direct and very important focus on the here and now. Now on what has happened in the past where we feel guilt or shame or ruminate about what happened, and not on the future where we start to feel anxious about what’s going to be the case, what’s not going to be the case. On purpose, in the present moment and then lastly, but perhaps most importantly, non-judgmentally, meaning we just notice things. If you’re angry about something, we notice that anger. If you’re stressed about something, we notice that stress.
A really big hang up that most people have with mindfulness or meditation, and I myself have had this when I’ve gotten into this practice, is the following. People think, well, if I’m supposed to meditate or be mindful, I have to instantly shut my brain off and not be judgmental about anything. What we have to realize is that this is something that’s achieved over a very, very, very long period of time. Even the best people who’ve practiced mindfulness for years can still be judgmental at times, can still come out of the present moment. It’s something that you have to practice. Knowing that you should be in the present moment, and that you should not be judgmental, is not enough to get you there. That knowledge is not enough to actually make those things happen. You have to practice it.
How do you actually do this? How do you actually bring this into your life? Well, the first thing to recognize is again, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you just say, well, I can’t shut my mind off. Well, of course you can’t shut your mind off if you haven’t practiced it or if you don’t actually sit down for ten minutes and try to. The very first thing I say to people is you have to sit down and breathe and give it a try, even if your mind is going in a million different directions. Even if it’s a pinball machine where things are just going all over the place and you’re angry about this thing, or you’re stressed about this thing or you are thinking about this thing that happened the other day, that’s okay. That’s okay.
People tend to feel a lot of guilt when that happens when they sit down. One of the things we want to practice when we’re mindful is just noticing that feeling. Instead of saying, “Oh, well I feel guilty and I’m not doing this right,” just say, “Oh, there’s that feeling.” Then try to bring your attention back to the present moment. How you’re feeling at that moment. It’s going to happen again, and it’s going to happen again. What you have to do is you have to practice taking your mind from the past to the future, which is usually where it’s at and bringing it back to the present.
Again, just like with training or nutrition or anything else we do here at the gym, it takes time. Saying that you want to be able to sit down for ten minutes and completely shut off your mind is kind of like saying, well, on my first day in the gym I want to squat 600 pounds. It doesn’t work like that. It takes a very long period of time. Even if you’ve been doing it for months or years, it’s not going to be perfect. You have to sit down and give it a try.
You might be saying, “Well, how do I do this?” I would initially recommend some programs. Headspace is a really fantastic app. They give you the first ten sessions free and have little animations to explain what your meditation practice should be like. There are other apps like Calm on the iPhone. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founders of the meditation and mindfulness movement here in the West, has a number of different audios where he’s got ten minute sitting meditation, 20 minute sitting meditation, 30 minute sitting meditation and lying down, and all these different variations. You can get those on iTunes. You really want to start out in a guided form. What I would say is just focus on getting ten minutes a day. Even if you’re getting distracted, even if other things are popping into your head, just sit down for ten minutes and try to breathe and work through it.
Another common misconception that people run into is they think, oh, well, I can’t do it if there’s noise around, or there are other things going on. No, that’s actually a perfect opportunity. It’s one of those things where you try to take your mind off of being distracted from those things and bring it back to the present moment. You have to repeatedly do this to get better at it.
Mindfulness is really something that can help you deal with the stress that we all deal with on a daily basis. It can make it so that your life is actually quite a bit more enjoyable and you’re not so worried about what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future. So give it a try. What do you have to lose, right? It’s free and it might actually help you out.