Here is one definition that seems popular these days: being in the Present Moment.
This means paying attention to what’s going on inside you and around you, as it’s happening.
People are often at their happiest when fully immersed in the moment. For example, when you’re eating lunch with a friend and you find yourself completely engaged in the conversation. Or when you go for a jog around the neighborhood on a sunny day and you lose yourself so much that you seem to melt into the world around you. Moments like these are a taste of what mindfulness is.
As you’ll see below, there are more nuanced ways to understand mindfulness, but the idea of being in the Present Moment is a good place to start.
In this post I’ll explore two important tools for mindfulness:
1) Paying attention
2) Setting aside time to Just Be.
Attention is the doorway to mindfulness.
And there are many ways to pay attention in the world.
But many of us spend much of the day not paying attention at all.
When we’re in one place, we daydream about someplace else. When we’re working on one task, we’re already worrying about the next one. And when someone is talking to us we’re already thinking about what we want to say instead of really listening.
It’s not something to feel guilty about. Just about everyone does it.
But if we can focus more, and learn to center our mind on a single task, we may also find ourselves more mindful—and more happy.
These days we fracture our attention. People write an e-mail while texting and watching a YouTube video and checking Instagram all at once. We almost can’t help it: We try to focus on one thing, and suddenly our phone buzzes with an update from a friend, or a breaking news item, or a funny cat video.
But studies show that distraction adds more stress to our lives. The more we’re interrupted, the harder we have to work to compensate for it.
So while we’re at work, we can try to focus our whole mind and body on one task at a time. And when we’re driving, we can try to pay close attention to the road instead of daydreaming or texting. And while someone is talking to us, we can try fully absorbing what he or she has to say before deciding what we want to say in response.
The way we use our attention in life determines much of what we experience. If we can improve our attention, we can improve our lives.
Set aside time to Just Be
In the 90’s, Nike’s ad slogan was “Just do it.”
This illustrates the way most of us live our lives: For the most part, we’re doing things. We get up, go to work, come home and watch Netflix, then on the weekend we are always looking for something to do.
“What are you doing this weekend?” our coworkers ask.
“What do you do for a living?” strangers ask.
Everywhere we go, people are doing, talking about doing, and reminding us to just do it.
All this doing can get to be too much. Sometimes it feels like we’re all on the carousel of busyness and we can’t get off. The merry jingle just keeps playing in our heads. This creates stress, anxiety, or dissatisfaction with the monotony of it all.
But there was another ad campaign in the 90′s, done by Calvin Klein, that invited us to try something quite different: Just Be.
Taking time to Just Be is another way to cultivate mindfulness.
This means finding ways to set aside your goals, let go of worries and plans and hopes and fears, and see if you can be present in your mind and body.
And contrary to what Calvin Klein suggests, Just Being has nothing to do with looking very serious in a black and white photo.
The experience of Just Being is like laying in a field of grass, looking up into the sky, and watching the clouds float by.
Spending time in a peaceful state of Just Being, where we are utterly at ease in the world, even for just a few moments, can help strengthen our ability to be mindful—and be present.
It will probably be up to the individual to figure out how best to carve out space for Just Being. Some techniques include meditation, yoga, hiking, and long walks.
Find time to do one of these each day, and set the intention to be present and aware when you do them. For example, if you choose to go hiking, try to focus your attention closely on your feet walking on the ground, birds chirping and wind rustling in the trees, and the fresh air lifting your chest and shoulders with each breath. See if you can let your thoughts float by like clouds in the sky.
Practice Just Being for long enough and you will be begin to deepen your ability to be mindful.