The events of the past year have undoubtedly brought added stress to our already full lives. Few could say they have not been impacted in some adverse way by the pandemic and other stressors in the world around us, and many have experienced considerable angst, worry and loneliness.
At the same time, I, like many with whom I work and interact, have developed greater awareness and a deeper appreciation for the countless blessings in life and of the fulfillment derived from simple things such as meeting up with a friend for a cup of coffee, going to a movie, or visiting a grandparent.
A colleague recently shared a metaphor of life pre-pandemic as like a snow globe shaken up, with the objects within obscured by the flurries of snow fluttering about — reflecting the business of life and the frequent distraction from what is present below. The initial near full stop of comings and goings with the onset of the pandemic, confining us largely to our homes and slowing us down, was like setting the globe down, with the objects within coming then into full focus as the flurries settled.
Such stillness can bring about clarity and opportunity for reflection and attunement to things we might otherwise miss and to noticing what it is that matters most in our lives.
It so happened that near the start of the pandemic, I was reading and learning more about mindfulness and the associated attitudes outlined by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., including acceptance, non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, letting go, gratitude and generosity. At the time, I did not realize the incredible opportunity just ahead to put into practice those attitudes, and the profoundly different experiences available to me upon doing so. This reminds me of an insightful quote by Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., that “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Mindfulness refers to the practice of moment to moment awareness of what is, and responding with curiosity, kindness and intention. It involves attunement and non-judgmental observation of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and the environment around us. It allows us to live more fully in the present moment, versus dwelling, or worrying about what has been, or what is yet to come- either real or imagined. It can free us from old, unproductive patterns of thinking and reacting, and help us to settle negative energies and distress. It can improve the quality of our attention, communication and relationships, reduce stress, depression and anxiety and improve immune functioning and our physical health. It can raise our awareness to what it is that we are truly practicing moment to moment and thereby cultivating in our lives, allowing us opportunity to notice and shift impatience, judgment or angst for instance, to patience, compassion and peace. It can connect us to our true nature and help us to cultivate positive states of calm, joy and confidence. It can take us off auto-pilot and allow us to more deeply appreciate the simple joys and incredible blessings that exist within and around us, if only we would open our eyes, set aside distractions, and simply notice.
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,"
— Wayne Dyer, Ph.D.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness in daily life including:
Create a morning mindfulness practice such as stretching and taking a few minutes to simply breathe and be, noticing something special about the morning and resisting the pull to rush into your day.
Practice mindful, cleansing and abdominal breathing at times throughout your day; slowing down, fully inhaling and filling your belly with air, and fully exhaling and extending your outbreath. You might try this to shift from your thinking mind during a walk to your car, between meetings or errands, or during times of waiting.
Notice ordinary moments throughout the day that you might otherwise overlook such as the sound of birds chirping, the unique and everchanging sky, the aroma of your morning coffee brewing, or the expression on your loved one’s face when they smile.
Set an intention for a meeting, an event, or your day as a whole. Ask yourself how you wish to be, or something you wish to notice or practice, such as staying grounded, giving of your time or self generously, or practicing patience or loving kindness toward yourself or others.
Listen with as much intent as you speak, seeking first to understand and to be fully present with those around you.
Speak with intention, allowing your emotions to settle beforehand, and your mind to thus be fully online and not clouded by distractions. Say what it is that you truly mean.
Look at someone or something familiar as if for the first time, bringing a freshness to your experience and allowing for new opportunities and experiences to emerge.
Immerse yourself fully in an activity as simple as folding a load of laundry or preparing a meal through shifting your awareness from your thinking mind to your sensing mind. Shifting your awareness to your five senses as you engage in an activity, bring your full attention to that experience and live more wholly in the present moment.
Eat mindfully, noticing your hunger and satiety before, during and after your meal, and the smells, temperatures, textures and tastes of the foods you consume. Notice how different foods feel in your stomach and the impact on your energy and well-being.
Go on a mindful walk, feeling your feet on the ground with each step and bringing awareness to your five senses as you walk along, taking a break from your thinking mind.
Notice during the unfolding of an experience, what it is that you wish to remember most about that moment.
Observe an infant who is fed, safe and well rested. Notice the curiosity, peace and joy experienced with a simple exchanged smile. Connect also with the pure and beautiful nature that exists within yourself.
Try a noting practice, settling your mind and body with some deep calming breaths, and then bring your awareness to what is passing through your inner landscape. Simply mentally note, without judgment, what comes into your awareness such as “worrying, worrying,” or “planning, planning,” and return to your breath, letting go with each outbreath.
Bring your awareness to patterns in your thoughts, feelings and responses, and to what precedes or follows.
Pause between activities in your day, taking a few mindful breaths, before transitioning to the next activity.
During difficult moments, ask yourself how you could practice patience and compassion for both yourself and others. Ask yourself what the situation truly calls for, what might be most effective, and how you might best respond — consistent with your nature and intentions.
Take time at the close of your day to reflect upon and to mindfully review your day. Ask yourself what you wish to learn from the events of the day, if there is anything you need to settle, let go of, or make note of to address tomorrow. Notice the things in your day for which you are thankful. Set an intention to sleep restfully.
Allow yourself to slow down, take a mindful breath, observe and intentionally respond, and see what emerges in your life.