Updated: Oct 27, 2021
So, what does mindfulness mean to you? To me it's not only the practice of bringing attention to what you’re experiencing in the present moment, but it's also bringing awareness to the mind chatter. You know that inner dialogue that tends to be negative in some way; the Buddhist call it "Monkey Mind". Conscious awareness shifts your attention to what's truly happening in the present moment, usually a much brighter place than what the Monkey Mind would have you believe.
I've been practicing mindfulness since reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle over two decades ago. The key word is practice since I am nowhere near mastering mindfulness. In the years of pursuing the practice, however, here are some things that have helped me the most:
No list on mindfulness would be complete without meditation. Meditation deserves a dedicated post. For now, what I'll say is that I have found meditation to be amazing and simple, but not exactly easy.... especially in the beginning. It doesn't take a lot of time; the important thing is to just do it. I started with meditating once a day for five minutes. That's all my Monkey Mind could tolerate at the time. Now, I meditate for 30 minutes, with most days consisting of a 10-minute session in the morning and a 20+ minute session in the evening right before bed. I meditate every single day without fail. I find that I feel 'off' if I don't. Like how I feel when I miss my morning cup of coffee.... the rest of the day just doesn't feel the same.
The Breath Question
I learned early on from Eckhart Tolle to ask yourself "How am I breathing right now?". This beautifully simple question immediately shifts your focus to your breath. I found that focusing on my breath for at least five inhalations and exhalations allows the mind chatter to float away. After focusing on my breath, I often can't even remember what was occupying my attention mere seconds ago.
The Thought Question
Another approach is to ask myself, "Are these thoughts useful?". I usually do this immediately upon recognizing that my Monkey Mind is active. The answer to this question is almost always "No". This triggers an immediate shift in my perspective, with fear and judgement dissolving.
Nature and Animals
Two of the most effective ways to create mindfulness: Being with nature and animals. To experience nature, you don't have to be in the wilderness. It's equally powerful to go to a nearby park and stroll through the trees and really take in their beauty or walk on the grass (take your shoes off while you're at it and let your bare feet touch the earth). The energy of nature, of living things, can pull you right into the present moment.
Similarly, if you're a pet owner you know that holding, petting, or playing with an animal makes everything disappear. Stress, worry and anxiety can melt away in those moments. They are truly the "Guardians of the Present Moment".
Do you have a mindfulness approach that works well for you? Please share in the comments.