When I learned about living mindfully… part two

Part two of two:

It’s time to pay attention.

When I learned about living mindfully, my life changed profoundly. After my first time sitting formally in meditation, almost immediately I noticed a sense of calm ‘rightness’ within me… a soundness deep inside that I’d not felt for a very long time.

This sense of stability and wholeness, a quality that seemed both familiar and revolutionary, may have been a wee spark at the time, but it was there, and I had definitely embodied it. 

Now, having said that, sitting formally for the first time, and for the first few attempts that follow… many of us can feel as if we are somehow “doing it wrong”. This initial reaction is common.

We think we’re failing because we can’t stop thinking, our nose itches, our back hurts, and every second seems a struggle.

If this sounds familiar to you… give yourself a break… and some loving kindness and compassion. Keep at it. Be patient. Keep practicing. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. There’s nothing to fail.

Just sit quietly, breathe with awareness, leave judgement aside, and as your practice grows, so will you.

It’s time to pay attention.

Now, here’s something else I learned early on. Let’s say after cultivating your mindfulness skills you realize just how much you love meditating and you want to tell everyone about the benefits of mindful living. Not everyone wants to hear about your mindfulness experience. Matter of fact, in my case, no one did. And that’s okay. Well into my practice, I discovered that most of the top mindfulness experts advise newcomers to keep their mindfulness journey to themselves. They don’t suggest this as if you are to keep some kind of deep, dark secret. They give this advice because taking it helps you to stay focused on your well-being.

The people who are close to you will see the benefits of your living mindfully just by experiencing how you conduct yourself. And that’s how you spread the positive news.

And that brings me back to how living mindfully has profoundly changed my life. Although I very quickly realized the benefits of meditation from the first time I sat, a lot of time would go by before I recognized just how much the practice had genuinely changed me. So, what is mindfulness anyway? And what is it not? Let’s start with the latter question first. And just so I’m clear, although I’ve read a lot about mindfulness, and listened to many experts, I am not an expert. I’m only sharing what my experience has been.

Mindfulness is not meditation, but meditation is a wonderful way to cultivate awareness.

Additionally, meditation doesn’t always mean sitting still on a cushion or chair. It can be done while walking or eating or washing the dishes or gardening or, well, you get it. And even though mindfulness was taught by the Buddha, it isn’t a religious belief or system. Mindfulness is not about sitting back and relaxing and it isn’t always easy. It takes commitment and perseverance, and constant gentle reminders. And finally, mindfulness is not about shutting down or stopping thoughts. It’s quite the opposite of that impossibility…

Mindfulness really gives you some remarkable insight into how your mind works. Oh boy, the things you can learn about yourself!

Mindfulness doesn’t mean you won’t feel sad. In the same way mindfulness brings awareness to your thoughts, it brings awareness to your emotions… all of them, the good, the bad, and the neutral. And it brings awareness to your bodily sensations too.

Here’s what mindfulness is to me. It’s bringing caring attention to the present moment without judgement, just observation of what is. This doesn’t mean that I don’t ever have an opinion. I do. I just try to state my opinion mindfully… aware of my thoughts in the moment, aware of my bodily sensations in the moment… noticing them… letting them go… over and over and over again… while being present for whoever I’m talking to, listening mindfully, trying not to interrupt (which is quite the learning curve for some of us).

Mindfulness is being present even if the moment isn’t pleasant.

Practicing mindfulness has helped me to find acceptance in things as they are. Again, this doesn’t mean that I don’t make changes in my life if I feel that I need to improve upon something, especially when it affects my well-being. Practicing mindfulness just means that I do so from a more peaceful place of compassion and insight… and if I’m lucky, maybe even a little wisdom.

Living mindfully has helped me to make decisions with true awareness… without being mindlessly led by the ongoing chatter inside my head.

And mindfulness helps me to pay attention to the sensations in my body, the telltale signs that show me how I’m managing health-wise. For most people, the relationship between thoughts and decision making is fairly clear, but bodily sensations… not so much. And yet, when we’re nervous we get ‘butterflies’ in our stomachs. When we are stressed, we experience headaches or belly aches. When we are in pain, our muscles tighten and our bodies hurt.

So, it’s time to pay attention, don’t you think?

Well, there you have it. That’s enough, I think. Go find out for yourself. See what you can learn when you bring living mindfully into your way of being.