What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the moment, of being in the here and now rather than focused on the past or the future. Many of us aren’t fully experiencing our lives because we’re spending so much time worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. Our busy lives keep us preoccupied and out of touch with ourselves, our surroundings, and other people.
Mindfulness isn’t something that you have to do at the yoga studio or while meditating. Mindfulness is an approach to all that we do, whether it’s eating dinner or pulling the weeds from the garden. We can practice mindfulness by slowing down and doing one thing at a time. When we use all five of our senses, we’re more apt to notice the little things that might otherwise go unnoticed or taken for granted. When we stay mindful we can enjoy the little things in our lives; we can appreciate the warm sunshine on our faces or the crisp, clean sheets on our bed.
If mindfulness doesn’t come easily to you, don’t be concerned. Mindfulness is called a “practice” because it really does take practice. We’re used to multitasking, distracting, and over scheduling ourselves. Mindfulness is the opposite of these things. Mindfulness helps us experience our lives more fully. When we stay present focused, we experience all aspect of things – including all aspects of ourselves.
Connect with yourself
Mindfulness helps us understand ourselves. We tend to look outside ourselves for the answers when the only way to find out who we are and what we need is to turn inward. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of wisdom outside of ourselves; the point is that we’re often disconnected from ourselves. We don’t know what we feel or what we need because we’re constantly numbing ourselves with food, alcohol, drugs, electronics, and pornography. These are the quick fixes we use to make ourselves feel better. They’re easy ways for us to find comfort and to distract ourselves from our problems and our difficult emotions. When we’re mindful we can find solutions to our problems because we can see the whole picture; we can open up our thinking to new ideas rather being stuck in old thought patterns.
Mindfulness as a Tool for Self-Acceptance
Mindfulness can help us accept ourselves because when we’re mindful, we notice allow all of our thoughts and feelings rather than pushing them away or trying to distract ourselves. We tend to turn to distracting, denying, or minimizing in an effort to cope with difficult feelings or overwhelming problems. When we push away our feelings, we’re telling ourselves that these aren’t acceptable thoughts or feelings. When we welcome them in, we affirm our ability to cope and that all of these parts of ourselves are OK.
For example, through mindfulness we can acknowledge uncomfortable feelings such jealousy or anger. We might not like these parts of ourselves, but they’re normal and once we accept them, we have the ability to work through them and change them. If we continue to push away jealousy and anger, we can’t change them; it’s only through acceptance that change is possible. Mindfulness is a choice to look at what is right in front of us. This isn’t the same as dwelling on our problems or wallowing in our sadness. It’s an honest allowance for all that we’re feeling and all that we are.
We don’t have to be perfect
When we’re mindful, we accept ourselves, our lives, and everybody else just as they are. We’re not trying to be perfect. We’re not trying to be somebody that we’re not. We’re not trying to distract ourselves from our problems. We see everything without needing to judge it as good or bad. We can allow our feelings, whatever they are. We can let down our masks and fake smiles and stop pretending to be OK when we’re really not. Mindfulness is real — we’re focusing on what’s right in front of us. It doesn’t mean we’re oblivious to the past or the future; it just means that we see the benefits and choose to live fully in this moment. Our highs will be higher and our lows may be lower, but we know they’re real and we’re not trying to push them away or pretty them up and make them into something that it’s not.
When we’re mindful, we slow down, tune in and we really listen to our bodies, thoughts, and feelings; we notice every part of ourselves and let them be acceptable. We are saying this is who I am right now, in this moment, and I am acceptable and worthy just as I am.
©2017 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Originally published on PsychCentral.