Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of being fully present. In our day of technical addiction and multitasking, this is actually more challenging than ever before, which is probably why mindfulness is becoming so mainstream. There is a desperate need to feel more connected and content.
For some, this practice comes naturally. Those who are really present in the kitchen, preparing loving meals and eating with consciousness already do this practice instinctively. Those who immerse themselves into various arts or spend deep time in nature have mindfulness already as practice. The mothers who are nursing a new baby with full love and attention, lose a sense of linear time because of being fully present in the experience. In other words, the practice is super simple and applies to everyday activities.
However, when we multitask (e.g. checking a phone or other forms of distraction) during these special pauses in life, we disrupt the brain activity that activates the biological effects of true mindfulness. Multitasking is the antithesis of mindfulness. Multitasking keeps us in a state of tension mentally, emotionally and physically. It keeps the sympathetic nervous system in a low-grade response, which produces a cascade of chemicals that tell the body stress response is happening. This literally changes our brain chemistry and can affect everything from sleep patterns, metabolism/digestion, immunity, learning and memory and the inability to emotionally repair from painful life events. In addition, it spills over into our relationships, work and other important areas of life. We can see the effects of this in our “social nervous system” in the way people drive and walk through the grocery store. There is a sense of aggressiveness, anxiety and disconnect in the way people move around others to hurry up and get where they need to be.
How do we change this? There is nothing fancy or complicated about learning to practice being fully present in the moment. Typically, we might begin with noticing the sensory experience of sound, temperature, smell, taste, color and other experience of feeling tone. This may move a little deeper to noticing the movement of breath in the body.
The art of mindfulness is to “witness without judgment.” When we can learn to observe a sensation in the body without deciding if we like or dislike it, but to notice as it is, this spills over to observing our emotions without getting lost in them, our thoughts without getting carried away and our exchanges with others without taking things so personally. It teaches us to tolerate and even accept those things we cannot change. We learn to breathe deeper and more consciously. We are able to demonstrate kindness and compassion in situations that could be triggering to the ego. Letting go of frustrations becomes easier to do. Yet, we don’t become “door mats.” In fact, we are able to build a skill set to deliver assertive boundaries with clarity and wisdom. Our relationships improve. Our digestive system is able to more fully do its job when we slow down and eat thoughtfully. We stop repeating habitual patterns that are not helpful. Everything changes.
However, like training a muscle in the gym, we have to practice it. The beautiful thing is we don’t have to add anything extra. All we need to do is slow down, take a breath and connect to what is in front of us. This mental focus activates regions of the brain that reduce anxiety, depression and stress responses. The practice becomes a natural medicine to supplement and support all others aspects of our well-being.
You can find simple guided practices on the internet, YouTube, podcasts, phone apps and other easy and available spaces. Most communities have some kind of mindfulness-based classes, lectures and teachers. There are countless books and articles written on the subject. The resources are abundant with a variety approaches. Individuals can find the practice that works for them.