I have been made aware of something lacking in my life: peace, primarily peace of mind.
Inside my head thoughts collide in their rush for attention and, like balls of mercury when crushed, they multiply ceaselessly like some kind of manic word association game.
Yet, at the same time, and from different avenues, life keeps presenting me with the idea of Mindfulness. I pick up a book I never quite finished; I read a blog post from a site I subscribe to; I attend a therapy group. And in each experience the concept of mindfulness presents itself to me and says, Hey, wake up and smell the coffee! How many times and in how many ways do I need to tell you the same thing?
Well, I’m listening now. And I will share here what I am learning.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully in the moment, without judgement. It requires attention to one’s body and one’s senses: What parts of my body are tense or fidgeting? What am I hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling? Mindfulness requires acknowledgement of one’s thoughts without engaging in an inner commentary that inevitably leads to evaluations of good and bad. Example: “I hear hammering next door.” as opposed to “That incessant tap, tap, tap is going to drive me freakin’ insane about now.” Sounds funny? Sure, but not easy. When you try it you realize at once how difficult it is but also how much calmer the first type of response allows you to feel. As I type this I have to keep disconnecting my awareness of the hammering from my emotional, stress-inducing response, which could draw me into a fantasy of revenge grass-cutting at 6:30am.
This is mindfulness at its most basic. Mindfulness can be understood as the inherent mindset required by such spiritual practices as meditation and contemplation. It is often identified as originally Buddhist, but it has a long history in the monastic tradition of Christianity as well. But mindfulness is not just about prayer. It is about being present to one’s life from moment to moment in a way that reduces the negative, stress-inducing thoughts, feelings and physiological reactions (such as an acid stomach) that plague us. After all, I cannot do anything to stop the hammering next door. But I can control my reaction to it and its impact on my immediate comfort and health.