We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. In fact, we hear about it so much that we might have lost sight of what it actually is and what it’s actually for.
To put it simply, mindfulness is our ability to be aware of what’s happening around us and inside us. It’s not meditation, although meditation can be a great tool. And it’s not being present in every moment of our lives, because that’s impossible. And you know what, I like being lost in my thoughts sometimes.
The thing that I think gets lost when we talk about mindfulness and our goal to become more mindful is the point. What is the point or purpose of being more mindful?
Mindfulness is about being present, but it’s really about who we are being in the present when we consciously direct and choose how we want to show up in the world.
More compassionate – Less judgmental
More patient – Less hurried
More easygoing – Less rigid
More calm – Less anxious
More present – Less distracted
More disciplined – Less erratic
More self-loving – Less self-criticizing
More generous – Less selfish
More grateful – Less entitled
More joyful – Less moody
More conscious – Less asleep
I know for myself, when I am judgmental, hurried, rigid, and anxious, I suffer and I’m not all that great to be around. When I am compassionate, patient, easygoing, and calm, I feel lighter and happier, and I create less disconnect and discord in my relationships. In my experience, being mindful makes me a better person toward myself and toward others, and it helps me to create stronger and deeper relationships.
So much of our sense of safety and belonging comes from how well we are able to form healthy and solid attachments to ourselves and to the people we care about. Interestingly, the presence of connective and harmonious relationships is a key wellness indicator, as discovered in an eight-decade-long study outlined in the book, The Longevity Project. We now know that it is our relationships (or lack of) more than our diet or genes that determine how healthy we are and how long we live. Connecting the dots: mindfulness helps us choose better ways of being, which contributes to better relationships, and harmonious relationships make us healthier.
It also creates white space, gaps in-between activity, and stillness or silence amidst the internal chatter and outer noise. Mindfulness gives us pauses, even if only for a second or two, when we can return to ourselves.
How many of us can sit with our thoughts and feelings, especially difficult ones, long enough to let them pass? Or do we need to distract ourselves as quickly as possible? Mindfulness trains us to withstand more discomfort, not so that we can become titans of pain, but so that we can help the pain pass.
Barriers to Mindfulness
We can set up an incredible support system of habits to cultivate mindfulness and conscious living—my book, Better Daily Mindfulness Habits is filled with them. But it’s all for nothing if we don’t also take the time to remove the hurdles that impede our ability to be mindful.
Smart phones have become an essential, seemingly indispensable, aspect of our lives. The trouble is, smart phones and apps distract us from the present moment, producing unconscious, repetitive behaviors, like picking it up and scrolling mindlessly dozens of times each day.
Lack of Self-Care
The better we care for ourselves, the better we become at responding to life’s inevitable challenges and trials. Sleep, good nutrition, regular meals, rest, exercise, play and connection with others are just some of the many elements that fill our resilience tanks and help us live with more presence.
Most of us have developed the skill of being able to do many things at once. No wonder we struggle with mindfulness. While we’ve become quite clever at stacking multiple tasks together, it rarely makes us good at what we’re trying to accomplish. In fact, it often makes us much worse. It’s truly impossible to connect with others, ourselves and the nowness of a moment when we are doing several things at once. Part of the intention to live a more mindful, conscious life is the commitment to doing only one thing at a time.
Besides creating a sense of sanctuary, simplicity and cleanness, a tidy, organized environment helps us feel more solid on the inside. Clutter robs us of our energy and gusto. It makes us feel crowded in, overly contained, frustrated, even hopeless. But when we can begin to eliminate our outer chaos, we start to settle our inner seas.
Lack of Solitude
Solitude, when it’s chosen, is beneficial for us. The time we spend on our own gives us space to contemplate our lives and discover who we are. It is in the gaps between our interactions with others—either directly with another human being or through technology—that we power down and access our intuition, creativity and insight. If we are to presence ourselves to our inner worlds, and participate deliberately in our growth, we need solitude.
I invite you to take a look at your own life and consider:
(a) Who are you when you’re at your best and how could you become more aware of bringing that way of being into your life on a more regular basis?
(b) What barriers are often standing in the way of you being more present so that you can bring more awareness to your way of being more often? Is it technology? Are you too busy? Maybe you could find a way to spend some time alone each day.
It all comes back to being intentional, having some deliberateness about the way we want to show up in this world and then using the tools of mindfulness—meditation, journaling, reflection, time alone, walks in the woods—to keep those intentions clear and present.
Otherwise, we’re just sleepwalking through life on autopilot. And what kind of life is that?