Being mindful is about being awake and completely present in each moment of our lives - fully engaged in whatever is happening around us and within us. By bringing an attitude of curiosity, acceptance, and friendliness to whatever is experienced, rather than being judgmental and critical, our wellbeing and performance improve, and life becomes richer and more satisfying.
When we are not focused on something specific, our mind tends to wander. It begins to operate on ‘automatic pilot’, and starts scanning for problems in the past and future, often getting caught up in judgment and self-criticism. The brains fear centre (amygdala’) becomes activated which leads to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental and physical health problems.
In contrast, when we pay deliberate attention to where we are and what we're doing, we experience things directly through our senses in present time. There is no mental space for worrying about the future, dwelling on the past, or judging ourselves or others. It is, what it is. Consider how you feel when you're exercising, playing music, surrounded by nature, engaged in hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. In these moments, you are effortlessly in the present, fully engaged in what you are experiencing through your senses - the sights, the sounds, the smells, etc. Mindfulness also includes observing thoughts and emotions (just noticing them rather than judging them).
It's obviously much easier to experience this mindful way of being in some circumstances than others, for instance watching a sunset as apposed to wading through emails. This is where practice becomes important. By intentionally bringing you awareness back to the present on a regular basis, you begin to rewire your brain, 'default mode' becomes weaker and your 'present mode' becomes stronger. Mindfulness mediation speeds up this rewiring and makes the day to day practice much easier.
To become more mindful, start by getting 'out of your head' and into the present. When you have your morning shower for instance, take those few minutes to relax. Enjoy the pleasant sensation of the warm water running over your body rather than worrying about or planning your day. Even when doing mundane, or everyday activities like washing the dishes, walking to the train, driving, eating, or cooking are completely different when you are fully present. People who regularly practise mindfulness report that they become more alive - food tastes better, sounds and sights are more vivid and they are just generally more engaged in life.
Start now... even 5 minutes practice a day can make a considerable difference to your happiness and well-being!
DEBORAH FARRELL (MCounPsych)