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Many of us spend much of our lives on autopilot. We move from minute to minute following the path of our lives without ever really seeing where we stand.
Making New Year’s resolutions is a chance to take stock of where you are in your life and where you want to be. One resolution you might consider making for 2008 is becoming more mindful.
Mindfulness is at the core of Buddhist meditation, but it isn’t necessarily an “Eastern” idea. Henry David Thoreau, the American author, wrote in his book Walden about being mindful in daily life in the 1840s, in New England.
In Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Hyperion), Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes that “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.”
At first this sounds ridiculously simple—of course we are paying attention when we do things!—but understanding the meaning and potential of the moments available to us is much more complex and takes practice. We live in a world heavily influenced by the past, and nearly everything we think about is in the future. No wonder many of us forget to live right here and right now.
Why be mindful?As Kabat-Zinn says, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” Life brings
a steady stream of challenges, obstacles, pleasures and rewards. But only by slowing down and recognizing what’s happening can you effectively manage the challenges and enjoy the pleasures.
At the core of mindfulness is the practice of meditation. Meditation is not just sitting cross-legged and breathing; it is about consciously doing
nothing for five seconds or five minutes. Breathing is an important component of meditation, Kabat-Zinn says.
By allowing your mind and body to appreciate and enjoy something you do involuntarily, you are doing nothing else and can feel what it is like to live entirely in the present moment.
We have all said, “I didn’t have time to breathe” or “I couldn’t even catch my breath.” The simple act of concentrating on our breathing and nothing else helps us find calmness, recharge our spirits, and begin to see how many unimportant things clutter our minds.
Anybody can meditate
Start with spending just one minute, sitting or standing quietly, distancing yourself from the world around you and concentrating on the world within you. Feel your breaths coming in and going out.
Some people sit or lie down so that they can relax their bodies, while others practice walking meditation. You will know you are meditating when nothing happens except awareness of your breathing. To connect meditation with prayer, instead of thinking or reciting words, simply concentrate positively and gratefully on the person or idea you pray for and empty your mind of all other thoughts.
Living in the moment
Moment by moment living doesn’t mean instant gratification or indulging in what feels good at the time. This practice of awareness in simple moments is often clouded by our thoughts, which constantly analyze what has happened, or what may happen in the future.
While it is important for us to recall memories or plan ahead, dwelling in the past or living only for some future event robs us of the only space in time we have full control and participation in: now. Taking time to stop what you are doing and sit on the floor with your child or stand outdoors and just watch the wind in the trees may not change your world, but not doing so deprives you of the chance to appreciate the present.
In our culture, our lives center on doing and accomplishing. We watch clocks and schedules, have demands on us, and still we take on more. No wonder we find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day and disappointed by all we didn’t get to.
Thoreau writes about hours spent sitting in a sunny doorway, looking at the trees surrounding him, listening to birds, watching the sun move across the sky, or listening to the noise of a nearby wagon, and finding the experience “far better than any work of the hands would have been.”
People who find time to do such “time wasting” often recoup the energy to do what needs to be done.
Kabat-Zinn asks us to step aside from mechanical interactions with people. Whether it is saying goodbye to your child at the beginning of a school day or thanking the sales clerk who’s helped you, try making direct eye contact, saying your words thoughtfully and making sure your body language reflects what you say.
The ancient practice of sitting around a fire for light, warmth and company after the sun sets has been replaced by television or frenzied activity as you attempt to catch up. Taking time to connect with loved ones by sharing a meal, sitting together or playing a board game gives us precious time for those most important to us.
Finally, mindfulness is about savoring moments as you savor bites of a favorite food. Mindfulness doesn’t ask you to shirk all your responsibilities to stare at a blank wall, but to be aware and appreciative of each moment, and to live it fully.