When is the last time you can say you were truly fully present? How often have you driven home from work, only to realize you can’t recall a thing from your drive home? Not what songs played on the radio, no observations of other drivers, you were in a true state of auto-pilot. Have you had the experience in which you can’t remember whether or not you’ve taken a certain medication on any given day because you take the pill out of habit, without thinking? That can be downright dangerous.
Auto-pilot, habit, and programming in general are, on the one hand, ways we survive in our hectic daily lives. On the flip side of that coin, they are also the main suspects behind the phenomena of ‘time flying’ and the true villains behind our not living life to its fullest.
Studies from the American Psychological Association show that mindfulness boosts memory function, reduces stress, reduces one’s tendency to ruminate as well as symptoms of depression, aids in one’s ability to focus and reduces emotional reactivity. In other words, it’s good. I mean, Buddhists knew this stuff, like, 2600 years ago.
The phrase ‘mindful living’ may bring to mind serene barefoot yogis and incense. While that’s all well and good, mindfulness doesn’t have to be a serious lifestyle change. Here are some simple tips for incorporating mindfulness into your busy shoe-wearing, non-incense burning life.
In a world where treasured photographs are tweeted and posted on Facebook, rarely making it into a frame or a photo album, where letters to loved ones are blasted into the cyber world, where blogs have replaced journals, how the heck will records of our lives exist in the real world? What if John and Abigail Adams had been on Gmail? We wouldn’t have their famously beautiful and moving accounts of life, love and politics during and surrounding the Revolution. Since we live in a time where records of our life and times are mostly fleeting, it’s important that we foster our memories. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to pay attention to the type of memories you are fostering.
Do you find yourself thinking of other things that need to be done while you are involved in another task? If you are, for example, walking your dog, are you, instead of being present in the moment, mentally perusing your to-do list? Why not, literally, stop and smell the roses? Enjoy the funny way your dog trots down the street. Take your headphones off and listen to the birds in the trees. Be in THAT moment.
This goes for spending time with your two-legged friends as well.
During a conversation with a friend, a loved one, a co-worker, even a cashier, bank teller, server, whatever, check in with yourself – are you just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can talk? Are you waiting for them to finish so you can end the conversation? Try to truly focus on what the other person is saying and see their perspective – not just in the case of an argument, just in daily conversation. It can be tempting to dismiss others and their words as characters on the stage of “our” play. Keep in mind the motivations and perspectives of others and process before judging or dismissing.
Don’t Be So Quick To Judge
Speaking of judgments, we as humans are conditioned to make judgments. It’s part of our survival mechanism. These judgments can be negative or positive judgments, but they are, nonetheless, assumptions. In other words, they are a shortcut to really learning about someone or something.
To truly experience another person or a situation, check in on the judgments you are unconsciously making and see if you can differentiate which are based in reality and which are being manufactured by our brains that so desperately want to fit everything into a neat little box. Don’t let it!
Isn’t it weird, if you think about it, that our body remembers to breath all by itself, ALL DAY LONG!? It’s a good thing, too. How often do you really think about the breathe going in and out of your body? It’s a good idea, in the pursuit of mindfulness, to get into the habit of checking in with your breathing and your body about once an hour. This helps in everyday activities as well as during exercise, so we can be more in tune and listen to our bodies, because our bodies are always know what’s up!
A Matter Of Taste
Long story short: don’t shove food into your mouth! If you’re anything like me, you’re guilty of wolfing down a bag of chips in the car on the way to a meeting or shoveling a box of Hot Tamales down your gullet in the movie theater. Mindless eating doesn’t fuel your spirit or your body the way really good food eaten the way it’s supposed to be eaten does. Mindful eating benefits people with chronic eating disorders, helps battle type 2 diabetes, and for those of us who are lucky enough not to deal with either of those, generally helps with one’s weight and Body Mass Index.
Additionally, as food is not just fuel, but is also a celebration of the circle of life, a cultural expression, and can be a quiet moment to commune with yourself, slowing down and really tasting your food can bring the added benefit of, at the risk of hyperbole, pure joy.
Practicing mindfulness can mean the difference between living life and simply pushing through it. Granted, being mindful and aware of everything can mean acknowledging and feeling not just the good things, but the things that feel not so good; it’s all part of the experience of living. As Helen Keller said, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”