Mindfulness is your ability to be present and aware of what is happening at the moment—in the here and now. Most people spend a good part of their day—if not all day—preoccupied with thoughts about what happened yesterday, where they want to go today, and what they need to do later.
Thoughts tend to be fixated on past events or obsessing over the future. In many ways, this is normal because we need to take care of our responsibilities; we need to work or study and get things done. These types of activities are part of our everyday survival.
However, you might start to run into problems when your mind—and your thoughts—are always in the past or in the future and never in the present moment. It can be stressful, exhausting, and emotionally and physically draining when you aren’t able to give your mind a break from worrying, planning, anticipating, and obsessing.
When you aren’t able to stay present, you can miss out on a lot of wonderful and valuable experiences—you can end up skipping the process of actually enjoying your life when you spend a lot of your time worrying about the future or lamenting over things that happened in the past.
The concept of mindfulness emphasizes the fact that we don’t really have control over the future and we certainly don’t have control over changing things that have already happened—in the past. But the present is under our immediate control, which is why in practicing mindfulness we say: All you really have is right now. This notion might seem a bit scary if you really think about it—because we often put forth so much effort in trying to control our future and we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we have it under control. But the truth is that the only reality that is certain is the reality of right now—this moment.
Staying present, mindful, and aware of what is going on in the present seems simple—and it is simple—but it’s not necessarily an easy state of mind to achieve. It takes practice and patience, but you are pre-wired to live in the present moment. This state is meant for you, only you’ve been brought up and molded by modern society to stay preoccupied with the past and the future. Mindfulness exercises help us practice keeping our minds present. This allows the mind to get a little bit of a rest from the fast-paced nature of our daily lives.
Meditation is not the only form of achieving mindfulness, but it’s one way you can practice staying in the here and now. Meditation allows you time to clear your mind of thoughts and focus on something in the present, like your breathing, for instance. The idea is not to keep your mind ‘blank,’ but instead to focus on your breath and if any thoughts happen to pop into your mind, you simply observe the thought, without judgment, and let it go. You then continue focusing on your breath.
Other ways you can practice mindfulness include mindfully bringing yourself and your thoughts to the present moment, any chance you get. You can do this by taking a walk, for example, and instead of replaying issues in your mind over and over again or mentally going over conversations you had with other people, you can observe everything around you—the warmth of the sunlight shining on your back, the cool breeze sweeping over your face, the scent of the freshly mowed lawn next to you, and the feel of the pavement as you take each step. You can observe birds or other animals around you, people riding their bicycles, or the lady sitting over at the bus stop. There are so many things we miss in our everyday lives because we often spend too much time elsewhere—lost in our thoughts—rather than in the present moment. You’ll find that at first, your thoughts will drift back to thinking about the past or trying to plan for tomorrow or later or the next day. Avoid getting frustrated or putting yourself down in any way. The point of mindfulness is precisely to be kind and gentle with yourself and with the thoughts you have about yourself. Accept and acknowledge your thoughts—all of them—observe them, and then practice letting them go. This is how you begin the important practice of separating yourself—who you are—from the thoughts that seem to take over quite often.
Enjoy and soak in the present and discover the many gifts it brings.
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