I recently introduced a small group of women to the concept and practice of mindfulness. As usual, people were very enthusiastic, curious, and a little confused about how practical it is to practice mindfulness on a regular basis. On the surface, it seems very obvious. Everyone wants to be more present in their lives, right? Underneath the surface, however, there can be some anxiety about what actually” living in the present without judgment” would do to change you and your life.
I often ask people who have a hard time seeing the value in mindfulness, “how much time you spend getting to know yourself?” Usually the answer is “Never.” You don’t think twice about inviting a friend for coffee or lunch to see how she is doing, but you rarely, if ever, spend time with you—cultivating the most important relationship you will ever have. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
You can start with a short daily meditation practice. It doesn’t have to be very long. Here is a meditation with awareness on the breath that lasts under ten minutes. If you have never practiced meditation, you will probably be aware of many obstacles to sitting and “just breathing” for a period of time. Namely, you could experience restlessness and have the thought “I should be doing something productive instead of just sitting here with my breath.” If this happens, remind yourself that meditating is doing something. What you are “producing” may not be as obvious as when you are sitting down in front of a computer, but I guarantee you that change is occurring.
Some of the change is in how you relate to yourself. With mindfulness, you are practicing kindness toward yourself and that always translates into feeling better. Some of the change is happening at the physical level. The body begins to relax. Some of the change is happening in your brain. You are training the mind to be more focused and alert. Being alert and relaxed is really the optimal way to engage in your life and be more productive when you are doing anything else you need to do.
Don’t expect drastic changes all at once. Mindfulness takes practice and gradually begins to open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to a new of living and being. It is a gradual shift. It’s just like anything else you want to get good at. You have to practice it. Eventually you might notice that you are less reactive to a co-worker, you don’t yell at your kids as much, and you don’t get mad at people who don’t drive the way you think they should. You might notice you are more patient or friendly toward yourself.
In essence, mindfulness sets the stage for the type of story you would like to have unfold in your life. When you begin to live more in the present moment with curiosity and kindness, you will begin to connect to yourself. And, when you do that, you are more likely to create the relationships with others that are more sincere and meaningful. You are more likely to create the life that you want. Do you want a disastrous melodrama or would an exciting adventure story (with a happy ending, of course) be more to your liking. It’s up to you.
There are many meditations on this website that you can use to get you started. Feel free to download them and share them with others. Also, if you are a University of Missouri employee and working on getting points for your wellness incentive this year, you can even get points for meditating by logging into your Cerner portal and going to the workshop section of their website.