For years, I have been studying the effects of mindfulness and how important “living in the moment” is to the quality of my life. As a person in recovery it was vital for me to become proficient at this. My life truly depends on this skill. Being able to pause and pay attention to where my feet are planted, in other words - to live for the moment, is essential to my emotional growth and well-being. When I get complacent in this practice, my state of mind reverses to old ideas and habits and that is dangerous for an alcoholic.
When we do the same things over and over again, we begin to sleepwalk through our daily lives. Brushing our teeth, riding the train to work, feeding the dog…who needs to be mindful when performing these activities? But what about a bus driver who has the responsibility for his human cargo? Or the surgeon with someone’s life in his or her hands? These types of activities take laser-like focus because many things are at stake, so they must be mindful of what they do. Ask anyone sharing the road with a texting driver how important focus and attention are. There are lots of people in graveyards who forgot how important being mindful is when behind the wheel.
Mindfulness is an act of taking responsibility for how your presence effects and is effected by the world.
So how do you start? There are lots of books written about mindfulness and many of them I have found helpful focus on creativity as a way to enjoy and identify the feelings that come from being mindful. Julie Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” was introduced to me years ago by a therapist whose life touched mine in amazing ways. Through the lessons contained in the book I began to sort through which voices in my head belonged to others, and began to find my on “voice” and focus on what I wanted. Showing up on the page of my journal every morning (due to the suggested morning pages) enabled me to get in touch with how I was showing up in my world. Writing down behaviors, thoughts and feelings gave me a doorway into mindfulness and made paying attention to the present moment a rich and rewarding experience. Being creative is not just about art or music, but an exercise in being mindful of how you react internally to every activity. It is an exercise in who and what you are meant to be and your signature on the substance of your life.
Mindfulness and meditation are similar in that they require one to slow down and focus. Learning to sit still or focusing on only one thing was always a challenge for me, but constantly working on meditation has been key for my living in the present moment. When I first got sober, sitting still kicked the “fight or flight” tendency into overdrive because my whole life had been about running and fighting. Somehow I knew that if I stopped at all…everything would catch up with me and I was done for. Mindfulness connects me to my feelings about a thing, ideas, or something physical. It is a way for me to expand my world by paying attention to the nuances of existence. Meditation on the other hand is about sitting quietly and allowing the thoughts about anything to settle so that my mind and body begin to relax. Both connect me to something much bigger than the everyday and reward me with a deep feeling of gratitude for my existence and my place in the world.
So here is an exercise for you to try mindfulness:
Wherever you are right now stop and take a breath.
- Now look around you. What do you see? Notice the details.
- Is it a tree? What kind of bark does it have? What are the shape of its leaves? How tall is it? What animals inhabit it’s branches? Is it windy?
- How does the wind sound? What does it affect?
- Are there people around you? Notice something different about them? Similar?
- What do you hear? Pay attention to all the different sounds. A lawn mower, dogs barking, someone hammering? Voices?
- What do you smell?
- What do you feel?
Gratitude that comes from mindfulness is born in the calmness of paying attention to what is already there. Whether you decide to accept it or not is the energy signature you leave behind.
What would you gain today by slowly incorporating mindfulness into your life journey?