What is Mindfulness?

The holidays are upon us. It’s that time of year we all love and cringe at the same time. The time with family and friends and continuing long loved traditions or making new ones bring us joy. Then there is the frantic shopping, worrying about getting that perfect gift for that perfect someone, not forgetting anyone on our list, and all the get togethers. Our schedules can be overwhelming with all the things we have to do, all with less than a month to do it.
What if we spent more time on being present this holiday season? What if we paid more attention to the present moment, being non-judgmental of ourselves and others, attending to what is at hand, responding rather than reacting to stressful events? This is mindfulness. It can help us navigate the stressful aspects of the holidays and life in general.
Mindfulness is a connection of the mind, body and soul. It is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside ourselves – in the body, mind and soul – and outside ourselves in our environment. Mindfulness is awareness without judgement or criticism.
How often do we just stop, and step out of the doing – and just be here, in the now?
Think of the last time you heard one of your favorite songs on the radio. You start listening to it, then your mind wonders off on a thought and the next thing you know the song is over and you ask yourself how you missed it. Or you pull in your driveway after your drive home from work and ask yourself, “Did I stop at that stop sign?” We all do this. We all get caught up in day to day activities of life and we miss out on what is happening in the moment.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) said,
“We routinely and unknowingly waste enormous amounts of energy in reacting automatically and unconsciously to the outside world and to our own inner experiences.”
By cultivating mindfulness, we can learn to identify our own wasted energies. Through daily meditation we develop a formal practice of mindfulness – we “learn to calm down enough to enter and dwell in states of deep relaxation. This nourishes and restores the body and mind.” This in turn, leads to an informal practice of being present – “it makes it easier for us to see with greater clarity the way we actually live and therefore how to make changes to enhance our health and the quality of our life. In addition, it helps us channel our energy more effectively in stressful situations, or when we are feeling threatened or helpless. This energy comes from inside us and it therefore always within our reach and potential control.
"Cultivating mindfulness can lead to the discovery of deep realms of relaxation, calmness and insight with ourselves.”
Mindfulness can be that important piece (or should I say important peace) to help us step out of the doing – the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
If you are new to mindfulness or have fell out of practice, it can be a simple start or reboot. Irecommend setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to ‘stop’ and ‘breathe’. Making time to
breathe, recognizing the air entering the body on the full in-breath -- the air passing through the nostrils, the chest and rib cage opening, and then on the out-breath – the air leaving the body, the diaphragm contracting, the air a little warmer. Just feeling the rhythmic flow of the breath – like the waves coming in and then ebbing back to the sea.
Another way is to set aside 10 - 20 minutes each day for a guided meditation exercise. These guided exercises are found through numerous apps, my favorite one is Insight Timer. It has thousands of guided mediation exercises for stress, anxiety, depression, pain, sleep, etc.
Studies have shown that people that meditate and are more mindful with the day to day activities in life are less reactive, less judgmental, more attentive, aware and alert. Studies have also shown that mindful meditation practice can reduce stress, improve emotions and decrease pain by triggering the parts of the brain that regulate stress and emotions, as well as interpret pain signals. Mindful meditation can help calm the mind, body and soul, allowing us to be more present in the day to day activities that we are involved in – in turn, bringing us more peace through cultivating a deeper awareness of life and everything around us.
So, take some time this holiday season to be present to the sounds of holiday cheer, the smells of
holiday meals and treats, sights of Christmas lights and decor, the people (strangers and loved ones), the touch of the cool air or a snowflake on your tongue. Be aware of it all with a curiosity of experiencing it for the first time, without judging, without reacting. Just being present with what is.
Written by Sean Horsley, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)