I was pacing in the office.
Back and forth, like I do most mornings – walking 10 feet one way, then 10 feet the other way – not thinking about anything in particular.
Finally, I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down at my computer. I was hunched, uncomfortable as always, triggering pain in my neck.
I stared at the screen seeing all of the emails pour in, making demands of me. As I read the urgent requests, my jaw tightened, triggering more pain, this time in my head.
The pacing, poor sitting position, and jaw clenching all happened without me even being aware of them.
They are habits. And they are all the direct result of a lack of mindfulness.
Definition of mindfulness:
A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment
I had heard all the talk about mindfulness and dismissed it. Yeah, that’s just about thinking of the current moment – big deal. But later, I would learn that mindfulness is much more than that.
In fact, it’s about taking a quantum leap in the quality of your life. As I see it, there are 4 major advantages of mindfulness.
When we’re fully aware of what we’re doing, we can catch ourselves in the many habits we’ve developed. Habits happen without thinking, but if we stop to think about what we’re doing, we can say “Hey, stop that.” That’s how I cured myself of the constant jaw clenching which had been producing headaches, heightened tension and a variety of other physical and emotional ailments.
It wasn’t easy. As soon as I caught myself and stopped, I’d be right back at it again 5 minutes later! That’s how powerful our habits are. However, through mindfulness, I was able to readjust myself until a few weeks later, that old habit was finally gone.
Without mindfulness, our brains tend to wander all over the map – into the past and into the future. This happens to such a great degree that we fail to live in the present moment. We are, in fact, not really living at all!
We become just a memory or a forecaster, projecting ourselves into another dimension. As a result, we fail to see the morning sky, hear the birds, feel our “aliveness” through our heartbeat. We fail to appreciate other people or even acknowledge their existence. We fail to enjoy tiny moments of surprise. Being mindful is living.
Focus and discipline
In recent years, I’ve been losing my focus. Social media, TV and smartphones have all trained my brain to concentrate on things for only a few seconds. Long-term reflection and contemplation has vanished. I don’t like that because it prevents me from sticking with things long enough to see them through to the end.
Mindfulness has changed that. By being aware of everything I am doing, I’m able to put back my focus. Just today, I lost my attention span and starting surfing the web, but caught myself and returned to finishing an important report.
I’m getting so much more done now, and in much less time. Things that were once a struggle are much easier.
Stress will always be with us, but we don’t need it to cripple us. Since practicing mindfulness, I’ve caught the times that I have felt stress and asked myself, “Why am I making such a big deal out of this? What’s the worst that could happen?”
This self-analysis has given me perspective, allowing me to calm down. Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to be mindful because things happen so quickly. But many times – there is the opportunity to slow down and question my reasons for being stressed.
It is amazing how many times we freak out over the smallest things. That realization moves to the forefront through mindfulness.
When we are mindful, we get a chance to know ourselves better and adjust accordingly.
We get the chance to experience life as it’s unfolding. It’s a powerful tool that can make us more relaxed, content and yes, even healthier.
Our minds are largely on automatic pilot. That’s why mindfulness isn’t east. I found that it took practice. A lot of practice, every single day.