Wherever you are, in this moment, notice where your feet are. If you are having trouble finding them you might give your toes a little wiggle. If they happen to be touching the floor you might press the balls and heels of your feet into the floor to really feel your presence there. Simply notice the sensation in your feet. Perhaps a little tingling, warmth or coolness. Perhaps a slight pressure against a shoe or sock. Perhaps not much at all. Whatever happens to be going on there, simply notice it just as it is without judging or trying to change it. Now, to help your attention move more inward, close your eyes or soften your gaze (perhaps looking downward a few feet in front of you, but not at anything in particular). Go ahead and allow yourself to explore this experience this for a few moments.
By now your attention has probably wandered away from the sensation in your feet (obviously back to these words on this screen). Just before you came back you might have noticed your attention wandered off to a thought or story, another sensation in your body, or maybe a sound. That’s ok. That is what the mind does. Just like our lungs are made to breathe and our heart is made to beat, the job of the mind it to think, to anticipate, to problem solve, to learn from the past and anticipate the future.
Notice too that in every moment of awareness you have choice.
The intention of mindfulness is not to stop the mind from thinking or to rid the mind of thought. The intention of mindfulness it to bring awareness to the habitual tendency of getting caught up in the virtual reality of thought, and then choosing to step back again and again into what is actually happening in the here and now. Sensations in the feet, breath in the body, sound in the environment, the sense of taste in the mouth, even the act of thinking itself. In any particular moment, you have a choice to redirect the attention to what is already happening in that moment.
My go-to definition of mindfulness is one that turned on a light switch in my brain after I first read it in the book Full Catastrophe Living:
“The act of paying attention, on purpose to the present moment, just as it is.”
-Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD
The act…of paying attention…to the present moment…just as it is. By this definition, anything can be a mindfulness practice. Taking a shower and really feeling the warmth of the water while noticing and stepping back from your upcoming to-do list. Really feeling the sensation of a hug or handshake that you are sharing with someone. Noticing the action of reading the words on this page, the visual sensation of the contrast of the gray on white. There are formal practices of mindfulness too that can help to cultivate a mindful stance throughout daily life (more on that later). But, at its core, there is no requisite to sit tied up in still silence like a pretzel to practice and benefit from mindful awareness.
I sometimes hear people say “mindfulness doesn’t work for me. I am not good at it.” This often produces a pang of sadness in my chest (noticing this is also mindful awareness), because being "good at it" is not the objective. There are many beautiful intentions for the numerous meditation and relaxation practices out there. When it comes to mindfulness though, quieting the mind or reaching a state of relaxation is not the goal (though both are common and welcome side-effects). If you are aware of your mind wandering away from the present even 100 times in a minute, by definition you are practicing mindfulness. The awareness, even once over the course of a 10-minute meditation, that you are indulging in a story or seductive narrative of the past, means you are practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness then becomes a concentration and acceptance practice. Acceptance of the habitual tendency of the mind to get caught up in thought, like a puppy getting distracted by a squirrel, and the concentration and dedication to gently redirect it back home. Mindfulness becomes a choice that you can make again and again in any moment, with compassion for yourself as a thinking being.
In my personal and professional life as a healer, I have come to appreciate coming home to this practice in simple ways... again and again. So often our minds are caught up in ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. In the present moment is where joy happens, where peace happens, where life happens. Coming back to mindfulness is coming home to what it is to live my life authentically. It is the path back to my self.
Through these weekly posts, I hope to honor and impart to you the lessons I have learned throughout my journey as a psychologist, a yogi, a meditator, an energy healer, a wife, a mom, a sister, a friend, and a human. So my first lesson for you, in this inaugural blog post, is that anything can be a mindfulness practice (and it is a practice!).
What do you want to be mindful of today? Here is a link to 21 ideas to explore. Have FUN and thank you for your kind attention.