Mindfulness practice helps you develop the ability to respond to each moment with clearer, more deliberate intentions. This, in turn, will help you craft your life with integrity, clarity and focus.
So much of our stress has to do with our thoughts about situations, rather than the situations themselves. Ideally, when faced with a problem, we do all we can in the moment to solve it and then move on. However, all too often we keep thinking about the problem and stressing over it. So while some of the stress comes from the situation itself, often we greatly increase our stress by how we respond to the situation.
Mindfulness meditation is a proven practice to help reduce stress. For those of you who want to know about the research behind that claim, click here. Mindfulness is a practice of focusing your attention in a particular way: — you practice non-judgmentally paying attention to you experiences in the present moment. It sounds simple, and in truth it is. However most of us still require practice to do it.
So much of the time, we are very far from present. Instead we tend to be lost in our thoughts — thinking about things that happened in the past or that may happen in the future. Often these thoughts run continuously in the back of our minds — like a running commentary — and we usually don’t even realize this is happening. However, this process can have a huge impact on our stress levels.
To be clear, mindfulness is not about trying to stop having thoughts, or changing your thoughts. Rather it’s simply about recognizing when you’re “thinking” and then coming back to the present. You don’t need to engage with the thoughts. Lightly say something like “It’s just that thought again” and then imagine gently setting the thought upon a leaf floating downstream. Let it float gently away as you remain present at the stream’s edge. With regular practice, this kind of mindfulness can actually rewire the brain and make it easier to focus your thoughts where you choose, rather than where they automatically and unconsciously take you. It gets easier the more you do it.
The Mindfulness Process
Here’s how it works:
Focus: You begin by bringing your attention to your experience of the present moment. The best way to do this is to focus on your senses. For example, start by focusing on your experience of your breath – focus on how it feels in your body as you simply breathe in and out. That’s the start of the process.
Distracted: After a little while, your mind will become distracted and start thinking about stuff. You will probably become distracted before you even realize you are distracted. This is completely normal.
Awareness: Eventually you become aware that you are thinking and are distracted from just experiencing the present moment.
Redirection: This is a critical step. Without judging yourself for having gotten distracted, or for the content of the thoughts, just label them as “thoughts” and let them go, coming back to experiencing the breath.
And the cycle begins again.
The point of the practice isn’t to stay focused on the breath the whole time. The point is to become more aware of your thoughts and to learn to gain control of where your mind goes when it gets off track. You might go through the cycle several times a minute, and that’s OK. The progress comes from just practicing going through the cycle of focusing, getting distracted and then re-focusing. With practice, this becomes easier.