Common interpretations of “mindful” are “conscientious,” “good behavior,” and “respect for others.”
But mindfulness is not “right” use of mind. Mindfulness is not what you think. It is simply noticing without judgment what is present.
For many of us, it feels impossible to notice what happens inside us without judgment, attachment, or aversion. Immediately after noticing something, our mind begins the fun and games or, as more often happens, the problem finding and solving. This is not mindfulness. Being mindful is more like being mindless!
Now I’m not saying that your mind is an enemy. It is an amazing tool that is here to help you survive and be happy. It just isn’t always that effective. Its interpretations and predictions are instinctively drawn from what happened in the past; if your past contains lots of pain, your mind preps your fight, flight, or freeze defenses in anticipation of more pain. This is all well and good, but what if the present moment is different than the past? How will you know unless you drop your mental freight train to notice?
“But if I relax my thinking, I could get hurt!” Sure, there are times when we are in real danger and need to think fast to get out. But how many moments of the day are actually life-threatening? What is so bad about feeling safe when you are safe?
Real threat or not, mindfulness can feel risky. It absolutely requires a degree of trust- trust in your own powers and essential goodness.
If I do not believe in my power to expel or repel something that hurts me, I will need to be on the lookout to make sure nothing gets past my defenses. If you believe that being present with yourself for an instant is enough time for someone to blindside you, mindfulness may be difficult.
This is why I advocate doing things that create a consciously felt sense of safety.
If what you expect when you relax your mind and observe yourself honestly is to find a person you don’t like, mindfulness may be difficult. “Our ability to be still depends on what we expect to find when we get there.” – Wayne Muller
This is why I advocate self-compassion. We all have less admiral qualities of character. If a kid expects to be cruelly punished when they misbehave, they are more apt to hide or lie. Similarly, you are more likely to see what is happening in you if you are unconditionally kind to yourself.
If you want to change, you must be mindful. A batter cannot know when or where to swing unless their eyes see the ball. Without the ability to recognize a self-defeating or self-harming pattern in the instant that it begins, all we can do is reduce the harm done after the fact. Being mindful shows us the root of the invasive weed and offers us the opportunity to pull that root or transform it with love.
Mindfulness takes practice. As you grow to like yourself, grow the ability to relax your mind and body, and grow recognition of your power, you find yourself capable of being more and more mindful. As you grow in mindfulness, you will grow in your power to choose and act differently. You become more free.
Sitting or walking meditation / Tai chi / Yoga / Writing down present moment thoughts, emotions, and sensations / Drawing or painting your present moment experience / (options are endless)
Set yourself a realistic goal. Most people can endure a 2 minute span of mindfulness practice. Start there and build up. Observe how crazy you are in those 2 minutes and laugh! You’re not alone!