By: Joyce Willis, MC, LPC
Have you ever driven someplace in your car and then couldn't remember the entire drive or what you passed along the way? That's an example of not being mindful that many people can experience daily. It's the same routine and you place yourself on auto-pilot, not noticing what you are doing or what is going on around you. In this article, we will explore the art of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the art of paying attention to what you are doing and what is going on around you. Mindfulness is about living with openness and experiencing possibilities by paying attention to the present moment. When we practice mindfulness, we can reduce stress and function in a more balanced way. Practicing mindfulness helps us to gain insight into ourselves and the environment around us. Practicing mindfulness helps us treat our relationships with patience, respect, and kindness.
How do we start to develop mindfulness? There are many qualities to incorporate in our lives to live in mindfulness. We will consider 4 of the most important qualities of mindfulness. These are
- Non-conceptual - Mindfulness is awareness without being tied into the thought process - just being aware and noticing. You might be aware of your own body and how you are feeling. You might be aware of the environment around you. Is the sun shining? Is there a breeze in the air? What noises do you hear in the present moment?
- Present-Centered - Mindfulness is always about being in the present moment. Ask yourself: Am I in the present right this moment? Am I present when I am eating, talking, listening, driving...?
- Non-judgmental - Mindfulness means being aware and observing without judging. Can I accept things as they are in the present moment?
- Intentional - Intention is one of the most important elements of mindfulness. Mindfulness always includes an intention. What is my intention in the present moment?
There are many benefits of Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness has been found to decrease medical conditions and psychological issues. Much research has been done to show that being mindful and using mindfulness decreases psoriasis, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure and asthma. Psychological benefits of practicing mindfulness include:
- Decreased depression and anxiety
- Decreased panic
- Increased self-awareness and acceptance
One of the most important benefits of practicing mindfulness is decreasing stress. When we decrease stress, we can decrease medical and psychological issues and increase our general well-being. There are five steps to a mindful approach to life which can be applied to every aspect of life. These steps are:
- STOP - Take a step back.
- BREATHE - Take a deep breath in and out and reconnect with the present moment.
- PAY ATTENTION - Be aware of what is going on with you and your environment, so you can see clearly.
- Consciously RESPOND - Use an intention for how you want to respond in a way that shows respect for yourself and for others.
- OBSERVE consequences - The consequences may be positive or negative. The consequences will be a benefit in choosing how you want to approach similar situations as they arise.
One way to practice mindfulness is through mindfulness meditation. A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and a renowned Zen master, sums up how meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand: "Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do."
John Kabat-Zinn states that mindfulness is about attention and awareness in anything we are doing. The practice of mindfulness includes not only mindfulness meditation, yet the actions we take in every day life. Kabat Zinn warns us that mindfulness is not a cure-all or magical solution to life's problems. It is up to us to choose our path and chart our course. Mindfulness provides a simple, yet powerful path for getting us in touch with our wisdom and vitality. When we follow this path, we can improve our lives and our relationships.
Like the title of this article states, mindfulness can be a part of everyday life; eating, talking, driving, spending and living. Let's consider each of these areas of everyday life.
- Eating - How many times have you eaten your lunch quickly to get back to work? Have you ever just eaten and then minutes later not even realized what you ate? Mindfulness reminds you to pay attention to what you put in our mouth - the texture, the smell, the taste of the tiny morsels as they hit your tongue. Ask yourself: "Am I eating nutritious food?"
- Talking - Can you think of a time that you said something and then regretted it seconds later? Have you ever spoken to someone and seen a look of confusion on the listener's face? When you are talking, are you paying attention to the words you are using and to who your audience is? What does your tone of voice and body language say? Mindfulness reminds us to speak in a respectful way, sharing to be known in a way that the listener can respond in a respectful way.
- Driving - The example at the beginning of this article speaks to mindful driving. I know that I have often driven on auto-pilot and been surprised when I arrived at my destination, wondering how I got there! When you are driving have you removed distractions in order to be present-centered and enjoy the drive? These distractions can be the cell phone, the radio, conversations with other people in the car... For different people, different radio stations will lead to distractions. For me, it is a sports radio station. If the sportscasters are speaking about something I strongly disagree with or strongly agree with, I can get excited and forget to pay attention to my driving. What radio station is it for you?
- Shopping - Think about a shopping trip you have gone on; a time you decided to treat yourself to a shopping spree. After the shopping spree, did you have buyer's guilt? This happens when we are not mindful in our spending. When you go on shopping trip, are you mindful of your budget? An idea is to leave your credit cards at home and just take the cash you are allowing yourself to spend. This is tough for most people, yet the benefits are that you will be able to treat yourself and not have "buyer's guilt" later!
- Living mindfully - All this leads to mindful living. When we pay attention patiently and with the concept of acceptance, we can lead a more peaceful, stress-free life. Mindfulness helps us to live our lives more fully, moment by moment. How will you be mindful today?
Let's explore how mindfulness relates to recovery. Mindfulness is an integral part of recovery. Addiction, depression, and anxiety can all be looked at as dis-eases; they all are a suffering. Incorporating the Four Insights, by Terese Jacobs-Stewart into our recovery process can be a source of comfort and relief.
The First Insight - Suffering: Suffering is an intrinsic part of life. Life serves up one form or another. It is not anyone's fault; it just is. We face the truth of the First Step of the Twelve Steps by admitting we are powerless and that by continuing to deny and try to manage our addictions, depression, anxiety... makes our lives unmanageable. For addicts, addiction and codependency are the First Insight. For others, the First Insight may have to do with change, depression, anxiety, illness, loss or death.
The Second Insight - Our response to suffering: The second reality that we have in internal response to the suffering we encounter. For every external event, we have an internal reaction. Our responses may compound the suffering that already exists when we numb with drugs or alcohol, when we blame, when we try to manage and control our addiction or depression. We may choose to become rigorously honest and use mindfulness to develop greater self-awareness and self-control.
The Third Insight - Transforming our response: We are not doomed to be stuck! We do not have to keep suffering. We can change our internal responses to the things we cannot control. An ongoing practice of mindfulness and meditation can change our brain chemistry. We must be willing to deeply engage in mindfulness, spirituality and to welcome change.
The Fourth Insight - A Path to Transformation: The fourth insight is that there truly is a path out of suffering. This path is about continuing practices of mindfulness, meditation and ethical living. The Twelve Steps give us steps to follow that are similar to mindfulness practice.
So, honor yourself by practicing mindfulness. This will help you open a new foundation for building the life you want. With mindfulness, you can face day to day situations with a new vision of who you are. Be gentle with yourself. Cultivating mindfulness takes time and patience. Mindfulness can lead to a realization of your basic nature, your true greatness and your potential.
For further information about Mindfulness, you might consider these books:
Wherever You Go, There You Are -; John Kabat-Zinn
Full Catastrophe Living -; John Kabat Zinn
Cultivating Lasting Happiness: A 7 Step Guide to Mindfulness - Terry Fralich
Peace in Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life; - Thich Nhat Hanh
The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Mindfulness -; Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness and the Twelve Steps - Terese Jacobs-Stewart
Joyce Willis is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is currently a therapist at The Meadows. She earned her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Akron. After teaching for several years, Joyce earned a Master's degree in counseling from the University of Phoenix. She has been in the counseling profession since 1996 and in that time has worked extensively in the addictions field. Her specialties include treatment for addictions, bereavement, trauma, depression and anxiety. Joyce has a special interest in mindfulness and helping people connect their emotional, spiritual, mindful and physiological selves with compassion and respect.