There is a new wave of practicing how we are in the world and it is called “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is self awareness and presence that helps us stay in touch and recognize patterns in our lives. The opposite of mindfulness is being on “autopilot” and dealing with consequences later. Autopilot is a state of mind, where we are “doing” instead of “being”. Autopilot is absentminded racing thoughts, reacting instead of responding; it’s the typical patterns that happen in your day to day life that you are not even aware of. Autopilot is eating the whole tub of ice cream, when you only meant to have a couple of spoonfuls; daydreaming, driving somewhere and not remembering how you got there, dealing with problems in the same old way and being frustrated with the same bothersome results. Autopilot is having too many thoughts in your head and not being able to recall important conversations. If we can shift from autopilot to mindfulness; we can be more intentional in our lives, pay attention to and embrace the things that matter to us, expand our way of perceiving things in the world and open our minds to other possibilities in our lives, and begin responding, rather than reacting, to problems.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation, defines mindfulness as:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
on purpose, in the present moment,
one mindfully and non-judgementally.”
Mindfulness is doing one thing at a time, intentionally tuning your mind to that behavior, and being aware and acknowledging thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges that you experience while you are participating. The next time you are mountain biking, consider and tune into the physical sensations in your body; your leg muscles burning, your deep heavy breaths, sweat gathering on your brow, thoughts of reaching the top of the trail, or giving up or pushing harder; the pride you feel about increased physical health, or feelings of peacefulness as you enjoy and embrace the beauty of nature surrounding you. This is mindfulness. Mindfulness is intentional, centered and peaceful.
We live in a multi-tasking society, where we’re constantly managing several tasks at once. Consider the things you lose out on when you are not being present and in the moment- the smile you missed from the cashier because you were checking text messages or reading magazines while checking out, or maybe the mountain biker was stressing about work problems and didn’t notice the amazing Okanagan valley view as she climbed the mountainside trail. Not tasting magnificent food that was cooked by your partner, because while you ate you did your budgeting and banking. The parents who miss their child’s first steps because they were engrossed with a television program, folding laundry and talking to a friend on the phone at the same time. When we slow things down, become present and tackle one task at a time- our lives become enriched because we now have the ability to embrace the little things that are pleasurable, important, and meaningful and may have been overlooked.
Mindfulness is a skill that can be learned through practice and patience. It’s a skill that can be used for relaxation and to improve sleep. It’s a skill that helps manage mood disorders (depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder), eating disorders and substance use. It’s a way of being that brings back meaning and purpose to our lives.