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What Is Mindfulness, Really? Practices for Daily Life

I recently said to a friend, as I watched him eat very quickly (as he often does), “You’re really not interested in mindful eating, are you?” He replied, “I don’t get mindful eating,”. “Respectfully,” I said, “if you don’t get mindful eating, I’m not sure you understand mindfulness at all.” “Maybe not,” he said.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on in the present moment. I drink water and I know that I am drinking the water. Drinking the water is what is happening.”

How often in a day, do you know what is going on in the present moment? How often are you aware of the movement of your breath? The sensation in your spine? The distant sound of a bird or a car driving by? To be mindful is to be engaged in the practice of noticing what is happening right now. This includes noticing the thoughts that are moving through your mind. However, what you may find is that, as you become aware of your breath and sensations in your body, thought may recede into the background. It also may not. Either way, notice.

You may wonder why we do this; why we practice mindfulness. Perhaps you want to practice mindfulness because someone said that it was a good idea; that it would make you healthier in mind or body. Or maybe you want to practice mindfulness because you’ve had the experience of spending an entire day with a loved one or on a hike surrounded by the beauty of nature and afterwards realized that you were lost in thought the entire time. Whatever your reasons for wanting to practice mindfulness, the most important thing
you can do is practice mindfulness RIGHT NOW.

~ Notice your breath, exactly as it is right now

~ Keep noticing

~ When you can remain aware of your breath for a few cycles of breath, expand your circle of awareness to include sensation in your body

If you are really serious about understanding and practicing mindfulness, make the commitment to practice mindfulness for 5 minutes a day or during one, specific activity. For example, you could commit to practicing for the first 5 minutes at work, on your lunch hour, when you get home or even as a way of refreshing your mind as you realize you are becoming distracted or fatigued. If you prefer to practice during an activity, you could practice while driving your car, riding your bike, walking, doing the dishes, eating a meal or exercising.

What’s most important is that you begin. Any moment of mindfulness is a moment that belongs to you because you are fully present. The moments during which your mind is distracted and being pulled in many directions by many thoughts – those moments belong to the thoughts. This is just one way to think about the practice of mindfulness.

You can practice mindfulness anywhere and anytime and you will likely see (and feel), as I have, that every moment when you are mindfully present is a moment that feels richer, more alive, more fulfilling. Because of this, the practice of mindfulness is its own reinforcement. That is, as we accumulate moments of full presence and the feeling of aliveness that comes with them, we more and more strongly commit to practicing mindfulness so that we can keep investigating that experience.

Let’s try it again:

~ Notice your breath, exactly as it is right now

~ Keep noticing

~ When you can remain aware of your breath for a few cycles of breath, expand your circle of awareness to include sensation in your body

~ What else do you notice? Sound? Something in your field of vision?

~ How do you feel as you notice your breath; the sensations in your body; the things around you?

This is the practice of mindfulness. Start now. Now is the only time you have.

How will you commit to mindfulness today?

2 comments
Mike O'Neill

very interesting read - i feel the "mindfulness" factor gets thrown around too much and this makes sense

Angela Inglis

Thanks, Mike. I think the word mindfulness is indeed used differently by some. I'm glad this way of considering the practice makes sense to you.

Doing a job I love has been one of the main aims of my life. I’m equal parts philosopher, artist and teacher. But above all, I’m a student; a student of life. I’ve been an academic, an actor, a singer and songwriter; a health advocate, social justice activist, ayurvedic practitioner, yoga teacher, curriculum developer and a writer. Outside of sharing my yoga passion with you, I am currently enrolled in Massage Therapy training in beautiful Victoria, Canada.