The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Many of us live in a world where multi-tasking is our modus operandi, where smartphones and social media are how we communicate, where fast food is what we eat. Unsurprisingly, we often feel depleted of energy. Our minds wander before we even complete a task. We are easily distracted by phones, emails, television, people. It’s hard to pay attention to anything for a sustained period of time – and by sustained, I mean even 30 seconds can seem to be a long time to do just one thing.
I lived many of my years in this way – doing too many things at once and not being fully present anywhere. I believed for a long time that spreading myself simultaneously across many activities was a way to accomplish as much as possible into as little time as possible. In other words, I thought I was maximizing my time and, therefore, believed myself to be highly efficient. Maybe a was to some degree. What I didn’t take into account was quality. Was the quantity of output superseding the quality of each experience? Was I actually enjoying social interactions and connections or was I preoccupied with other things? Was I able to enjoy the fruits of my labour without feeling anxious about the next deadline?
I’ve had the luxury and opportunity over the last few years to slow the pace of my life down in order to unravel my own personal processes. Through various experiences which required me to go deeply inward, I realized how difficult being mindful is but how essential it was for me to live a more meaningful life.
In meditation and therapy circles, the concept of mindfulness is pretty ubiquitous and is practiced with various techniques to achieve balance and equanimity in life. It’s basically a 4-step process which consists of:
- Being present
- Paying attention
- Observing – your own thoughts and feelings
- Letting go – which replaces judgment and reaction that could be detrimental
Mindful action forces the present to be the focus, from the moment you get up to the moment you go to sleep. It’s a way of living that allows you to recalibrate a life that’s been plugged in and over stimulated. Meditation practices like Vipassana and Zazen involve actively paying attention to thoughts and feelings and then then letting them go. Breath work and yoga provide tools to check back in with yourself in a mindful way.
So what are the benefits of living a more mindful life?
1. It enables genuine connection with others.
Turn off your phone. Yes people, turn off your phone and engage with the people you’re actually with. No really, just try it. Personally, I think it stinks when the person I’m spending time with is busy interacting with someone else that isn’t even physically with us. I used to be that person so I’m by no means casting any stones. But I also know what it feels like to be on the other end. What if we turned off our phones in order to be present and give our full attention to the people we are actually with? How would that change the quality of our interactions with people? I dare you to try it.
2. It reduces stress and anxiety.
Our stress and anxiety is based on our perceptions and memories of the past or the perceived inevitability of some future occurrence. Being mindful means being as present as possible in any situation, circumstance and activity. In the present, you can’t be anywhere else but the present. So when you’re truly present, you’re not thinking about the past or the future. Stress and anxiety cease to exist in the mindfulness of the present.
3. It helps with decision making.
Being mindful removes distraction. It forces you to slow down and evaluate your feelings and thoughts. This clarity of focus allows you to make better decisions.
4. It increases enjoyment, appreciation and gratitude.
By slowing down, you can give your full attention to what is front of you. All of a sudden, you begin to notice things about your current environment that you hadn’t noticed before that could potential make you feel awesome – children playing in the park, a beautiful meal someone has made for you, a sunny day. You begin to enjoy and appreciate what’s around you.
5. It provides clarity and makes room for change.
Becoming more mindful allows you to take stock of your life. What do you want to keep the same? What could use a revamp? By noticing where we’re at moment-to-moment gives us an opportunity to make changes, improve things and get rid of what doesn’t serve us any longer.
The truth is, becoming more mindful is not easy. It’s a process. It takes practice – daily practice. But the more mindful you become, the more benefits you experience in your daily existence. All it does is create space for you to actually experience the life you’re living with enough distance to not take yourself too seriously.