Mindfulness: An Instruction for Aha! Living
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
~ Mary Oliver
The first instruction Mary Oliver gives for living a life is: pay attention. Sounds so simple, right? Pay attention. Be mindful. In 2017, the American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA) estimated that 2 million Americans practice mindfulness. That’s less than one percent of the population. I believe more people would practice mindfulness if they knew:
- What mindfulness is
- The benefits of practicing mindfulness
- How easy it is to be mindful
For some, mindfulness seems inaccessible. To those, mindfulness is something relegated to yogis. For others, mindfulness has become mainstream, and in some respects diluted, such that they are not exactly sure of its true meaning, purpose and benefits. I’d like to share as plainly as I can what mindfulness is and why it’s a big part of the Aha! Life journey.
What is Mindfulness?
Before I explain what mindfulness is, let me start by distinguishing between mindfulness and meditation. The two practices are often confused and used interchangeably. While they can overlap, mindfulness is not meditation.
Using sources who are steeped in both mindfulness and meditation, I aim to clarify the distinction.
Giovanni Dienstmann – Meditation teacher, coach, and best-selling author of Practical Meditation: A Simple Step-by-Step Guide; creator of Live And Dare (the 5th most popular meditation blog on the planet; www.liveanddare.com)
Dienstmann, defines meditation as, “an exercise for your mind – a type of contemplative practice…that involves: relaxation, stillness, looking inside, awareness, and focus.” According to Dienstmann, most meditation practices invite you to concentrate on an anchor, such as your breath. Other practices involve focusing on and noticing “whatever shows up in your consciousness in the present moment (observation).” Mindful meditation is one type of meditation that may involve following the breath and observing what comes up.
Dienstmann describes mindfulness as a skill. He says, “Mindfulness can also refer to the qualities of awareness, remembrance, and watchfulness. In this sense, mindfulness is a skill involved in all types of meditation and which can be practiced in many daily activities.”
Josette Lumbruno – owner and founder, Calm Mind Meditation (www.calmmindmeditation.com) and member of The Aha! Community Facebook group
Lumbruno contrasts meditation and mindfulness in this way: “Meditation is when you intentionally set time aside to be one with yourself and mindfulness is being aware of what’s happening at the present moment.” She says that “Mindfulness is turning off your auto pilot and accessing your ability to focus on the present moment or the activity you are engaged in. It is simply the practice of being fully awake…” Lumbruno, like Dienstmann, acknowledged the commingling of mindfulness and meditation, as in the formal practice of mindfulness meditation.
In Breathe: The Mindfulness Special (May 31, 2019), Sophia Auld defined mindfulness as “an awareness of what is currently happening around us, both internally and externally, without being judgmental…it’s learning to relate to your thoughts and feelings as mental ‘events’ rather than things that are or aren’t true.” I will come back to why this act of awareness and observation without judgment is so important in living Your Aha! Life.
To sum up what mindfulness is and how it is related to meditation, I offer these to remember:
Mindfulness is a skill.
Mindfulness is awareness and observation.
Mindfulness is to be fully present in the moment.
Mindfulness is practiced in common, everyday activities.
Mindfulness is paying attention.
“Wherever you are, be there totally.”
~ Eckhart Tolle
Benefits of Mindfulness
In the Breathe magazine article, Auld extolled the many psychological and physical benefits of practicing mindfulness. They include a decrease in anxiety and depression, pain management, plus a reduction in sleep disorders.” Auld also pointed out studies that show practicing mindfulness regularly can shrink the prefrontal lobe of the brain where stress reactions come from. This leads to being able to “access ‘higher order’ regions of the brain, leading to improved self-insight, morality, intuition, and control of fear.”
In addition to what Auld cites in Breathe, various other researchers found that practicing mindfulness is linked to lower blood pressure; credible treatment for heart disease, substance abuse, and eating disorders; increased focus, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution skills; increased ability to deal with adverse events (resilience); ability to form deeper relational connections with others; and improved creativity and collaboration skills. Those who regularly practice mindfulness have also been shown to be less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are less likely to worry about the future or regret the past.
They had me at improved self-insight, morality, intuition, and control of fear! Seriously, I can’t think of a practice more supportive of everything the Aha! Life offers – an enlightened life that leads to more joy, more purpose, and more fulfillment.
Mindfulness is Easier Than You Think
Now that you know what mindfulness is and the incredible benefits of this practice, the next step is to start being mindful. It’s easier than you think. Lumbruno said, “The simplest act of brushing your teeth can be done mindfully by being present to the smell, taste, and the physical act of brushing your teeth.” We are given so many opportunities throughout our day to pay attention, to be mindful. When driving, pay attention to your surroundings, the feel of your body behind the steering wheel and in your seat, to the cars in front of you, the colors, street names, and signs along the roads. When eating, be mindful of the colors of the food on your plate, the smells, tastes and textures, how food feels in your mouth, and how your body is designed to take in food to nourish you. The next time you’re in a conversation with someone, be fully present with them and set an intention to really listen to them, not to respond, but to learn from them and be aware of what comes up for you.
Earlier, I mentioned the importance of noticing and observing without judgment. When we experience an “event” fully, we accept the event as it is, without judgment or manipulation. We simply open ourselves to learn whatever insights are embedded in the event.
Auld states, “It’s about learning to relate to your thoughts and feelings as mental ‘events’ rather than things that are or aren’t true…They are simply there and will pass. According to research, this increased observation and awareness of your daily thinking patterns can help you to disengage from repetitive and unhelpful ones. This, in turn, can give you better control over your emotions.” I think this is really important in understanding principles I also learned when I read Michael A. Singer’s The Untethered Soul. He said, “You are not your thoughts; you are aware of your thoughts. You are not your emotions; you feel emotions…You are the conscious being who is aware that you are aware of all these inner and outer things.” By your observation and awareness, you are able to free yourself from negative, self-limiting thoughts. How awesome!
The secret to reaping the benefits of mindfulness is “being attentive to the task of the moment” and to practice regularly. Start right now. As you finish reading the final words in this article, notice the words on the paper or screen, observe thoughts and emotions that come up for you. Be fully present in reading this article.
Mary Oliver gave simple, insightful, and practical instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. The instruction for living the Aha! Life? Be mindful.
If you enjoyed reading this article, go to my website, Your Aha! Life. You’ll find more articles like this one, access to my Podcast, and Resources that will support Your Aha! Life journey. You can also learn more about joining my private Facebook group, The Aha! Community and subscribe to my monthly newsletter. So many great ways to learn, grow, and connect. I look forward to getting to know you.