By Julie Mikins, MA
We’ve all done it at one point in time or another - drove to a destination, then realized we didn’t remember one aspect of the commute over; or took a bite of ice cream only to discover that moments later, we ate the whole pint; or snapped at our significant other as we were reveling in a difficult work day. At some point in time (or during many hours of the day), we have all operated in our own, mindless autopilot.
Due to the increased demands most of us face on a daily basis, it is quite easy to lose focus on the current moment, which can then get us caught in a constant state of thought. I mean, after all, how can you be fully present when you have the past to think about or the future to prepare for? The inherent difficulty surrounding this, however, is that most of our thoughts have little to do with the here and now. Additionally, many times, carried with these thoughts are (potentially strong) emotions which, once again, may have nothing to do with the moment you are currently living, but nevertheless have the ability to impact it all the same. With that being said, it is easy to understand how the constant juggling of thoughts (many tied to their own emotions) can increase our stress levels, lead to burnout, damage our interpersonal relationships, and decrease our quality of life.
One of the best ways to anchor us into the present is to practice the art/science of mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” More simply put, it is being fully aware of yourself in your body – the sensations, the sights, the sounds, and the smells. It means observing our thoughts versus attaching emotions, reactions, and meanings to them. Sounds tricky, but we are all born with the capability for mindfulness. While we are all trained in our lives to think, very few of us are taught to actually be aware and live in the present moment. Mindfulness teaches us a way of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.’
Mindfulness can be used at any time by anyone. Its application can help those who suffer with chronic pain, anxiety, sleep problems, and depression. Overall, however, the benefits of mindfulness are many: decreased stress levels, increased immune function, and improvement in our brain’s ability to process information.
Most simply put, a habitual practice of mindfulness can lead to a more fulfilling, present life.