How many can sit quietly and focus on flowers swaying gently in the breeze and watch bees swarm them looking for honey? I mean FOCUS, really FOCUS? No cell phone. Mind totally empty except for the image of the flowers swaying and the bees swarming the flowers. No thought of the kids’ ball game, or what to cook for dinner tonight. Probably not many.
Being mindful in today’s crazy world isn’t easy. Our minds are pulled in many directions all at the same time. We rarely give our whole-hearted attention to anything anymore. We stumble through our work day thinking of our family. We stumble through family time thinking about work. Both are compounded by digital distractions, Facebook, Instagram, selfies, Twitter, and the list goes on and on. Electronics invade our space and follow us home at night. A study by the University of Southern California estimate the average American consumes an astonishing 13-plus hours of media a day (Williamson, 2017).
Our minds are exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed, and are never allowed to rest. Our lack of mindfulness costs everyone. We cheat our employers and our families out of our undivided attention. We make more mistakes and our minds tend to ricochet, causing us to change tasks on an average of every three minutes (Williams, 2017).
Many of us can’t sit still for presentations, trainings, or even intimate moments with our family and friends. More and more we are looking for peace in our crazy-busy schedules. Put down the juggling balls of multi-tasking, enjoy being present, and reap the rewards of being present and mono-tasking.
Mindfulness is a state of consciousness characterized by attentive focus on the present experience in a non-judging and non-reactive manner (Harrington, Loffredo, & Perez, 2016). Mindfulness is a multifaceted concept. Specific facets of mindfulness include attending, observing, describing and uncritically accepting the experiences (Baer, Smith, & Allen 2004). Mindfulness interventions evolved from mindfulness practices that date back thousands of years in Eastern spiritual traditions, most notably Buddhism (Bruce, Manber, Shapiro & Constantino, 2010; Carmody, 2009), but also Hinduism, Judaism and even some Christian religions (Williams, 2017). However, we don’t have to subscribe to any particular religion or philosophy to become mindful and reap the benefits.
Psychic decluttering just might be what we all need. Even though mindfulness techniques evolved from a mostly religious context, these techniques can be taught in a completely non-religious manner. Even though they can be used as a spiritual practice, anyone can benefit from learning to be present.
Doing mind clearing meditations can help clear out all the clutter. Another method is the body scan method. In doing the body scan, relax as if doing a normal meditation. Pay attention to different parts of your body while you are still. You will begin to notice the different feelings or sensations your body has and the signals it sends you. Doing a body scan can make you feel better; you can even turn it into a self-healing meditation if you feel any discomfort in any area of your body. Prepare yourself as you do for a regular meditation. Notice your feet. How do they feel? Are they cold, hot, tingly, tight or normal feeling? You might not feel anything and that’s ok. Now move your awareness to your knees. Scan them the same as you did your feet. Keep breathing and exhaling as you do your scan. Keep moving up to your legs, your stomach, your heart. Scan all parts of your body, healing them as you go. Once you are done with the entire body scan, make another quick scan starting at your feet once again and see if they feel any different. Move on up and feel how you have helped your body.
Researchers have found being mindful impacts the brain, influences the experience of emotions, and can even alter behavior (Davidson, 2010). Mindfulness practices calm the amygdala’s fight or flight tendency, which helps lower stress levels (Williams, 2017). Many large corporate giants such as American Express and Nike are taking mindfulness practices to their employees. They have found their employees have increased their performance, decreased accidents, decreased stress, and slept better. The American Psychological Association cites mindfulness as a hopeful strategy for alleviating depression, anxiety, and pain.
The University of Wisconsin found people who meditate regularly have different patterns of brain electricity, potentially leading to more efficient attention-paying and learning. They believe, change your thoughts, and maybe you can change your brain (Williams, 2017). Mindfulness has been a powerful tool for Mary Elizabeth Williams (2017), author of the article, Every Mind Needs Mindfulness, in helping with her migraines and panic attacks. She is amazed at how using her own thoughts to control her stormy brain has reduced her migraine medication consumption and visits to her therapist. In today’s busy world, most people feel they need to be constantly anxious and on the go to be successful. If you feel you are too busy and your brain runs too fast to meditate, you are the person who needs it the most. Mindfulness takes practice. Every time you do a rep with a free weight, you strengthen a muscle. Same goes for your mind. Every time you pull your mind back to the present it becomes easier and your mind becomes stronger, in return you become more focused.
Good sleep, good food, good exercise, good PRACTICE all helps us become mindful. We need to take a break from our digital devices, never sleep with the television on, and make sure to nourish your body and soul with healthy thoughts and food. We also need to COMMIT to being mindful and participate in mindfulness exercises such as yoga and meditation. Meditation is not equivalent to or synonymous with mindfulness, although mindfulness is promoted by practices such as meditation (Davis & Hayes, 2011).
Many practices can help with mindfulness. Consider mindfulness practices a gym membership for your mind. Meditation can help teach mind clearing and self-insight and healing. Yoga is also a great practice to help clear our mind as we concentrate on our poses. Take a short walk and concentrate on every detail of your walk; no thinking about work, kids, or negative people. Chat with a friend and make yourself pay strict attention to everything they say. Do not be thinking of what you will tell them next. Let them finish before you respond. Be an active listener. Do a random act of kindness for someone and focus on how it makes you feel. Play with your dog or cat.
Being Mindful When You Eat?
How many times have you sat down to watch TV with the intention of eating a few chips, and the more exciting the movie got, the more chips you stuffed in your face until the entire bag was gone? And, how many calories do you suppose you just consumed? We do the exact same thing when we are bored, sad, stressed, or even happy!
We need to practice mindfulness when we eat. Mindful eating requires a change in the way we think about food. Instead of inhaling everything on your plate, you learn what your body needs, how it feels, and when you are full (Mulpeter, 2017). Once again we need to strengthen our “mindful” muscles. Bring your mind back to your food. Are you able to attend, observe, describe and uncritically accept what you are about to eat? Did you notice the color, smell the aroma, and pay attention to the taste of each bite? Did you chew each bite long enough? Do you feel nourished, or do you feel bloated and over-full? Are you happy with yourself for eating this meal, or are you disgusted with yourself?
If you become a mindful eater, your relationship with food will relax. It will slow down. You will have time to receive the “full” signals, and you will enjoy the eating experience much more. Most health conscious eaters, such as ourselves, know exactly what we should and should not eat, but actually doing it often requires a skill set we haven’t mastered yet—mindful eating practices.
Being mindful while eating is more than just paying attention to the food; it is paying attention to every signal our body sends us—every detail of how it makes us feel. In becoming better attuned to our body’s signals can weaken the eating-for-fun instinct; research has linked mindfulness eating to reduced binge eating, less emotional eating and decreased body weight (Mulpeter, 2017).
If you keep practicing mindful eating, you will get to the point where it becomes a habit to eat mindful, to be present while you eat. In other words, you will become mindlessly very mindful.
Ellen Seidman, wrote the article Fourteen Ways to Eat in the Moment (and Love it), knows the torture and the benefits of mindful eating. She writes, with food always on our mind, the last thing we want to do is obsess over food even more, which is exactly why mindful eating may seem unappetizing. Who has the time for that? Of course the ego steps in and tries to sabotage our efforts for mindful eating anyway. The ego tells us mindful eating requires too much busywork; constantly putting down our fork between bites, sniffing every morsel, chewing, attending, observing, describing and uncritically accepting the experience of eating mindfully. It requires eating with intention and attention. We should only eat when we get a hungry signal and stop the instant we get the full signal.
The 14 ways she believes we can eat mindful are:
- Start by asking yourself, do I really want this, am I really hungry? Sometimes the brief pause caused by asking the question, before we have the first bite, gives us time to assess our body’s signals, and why we are eating.
- Actually sit down to eat. Don’t sit in front of the TV, phone, or computer. Sit your butt in a chair at the table or counter.
- Act like a baby. Tots find food wondrous: they mush it, pummel it, taste it, and smell it, where we tend to inhale it.
- Have lunch anywhere but at your desk. The break room is great, or even better, outdoors in the park or courtyard.
- Create a food speed bump. Do a mid-meal assessment of whether we are full or not.
- Go wild with Thai takeout, or any other ethnic cuisine. Try different foods, savor the flavor and colors.
- Don’t swear off comfort food. Occasionally eat those mashed potatoes, the more you forbid yourself delicious treats the more likely you are to devour them when your defenses are down.
- I disagree with this one because we should have given up sugar, but she says to have candy, just don’t keep it handy. Being a sugar addict myself, one piece of candy will pretty much make me fall off the wagon and devour the entire bag. Don’t let your ego tell you any different either.
- Chew like a cow. Need I say more.
- Beat buffet syndrome. New research is finding that we can position our bodies to shape the ways we think, act, and eat. This is called “embodied cognition”. The process involves literally firming our muscles to firm our willpower in order to consume unpleasant medication or resist food temptation. By making a fist or crossing our arms can signal our brains to stop the craving. And, this also prevents us from using our hands to serve ourselves more baked ziti.
- Play with texture. Altering food textures wakes up your taste buds and your sense of food adventure. Try freezing grapes, placing a slice of avocado between layers of a turkey rollup.
- Follow the rule of two. This one’s all about planning your pleasure. Order your meal and two other things you really want, such as a glass of wine, or beer, and an appetizer.
- Clean that cluttered kitchen. This involves some effort but totally worth it. We are likely to overeat by as much as 34% when our kitchens are a mess of newspapers, unopened mail and chairs in disarray finds a recent Wansink study published in Environment and Behavior. Having a neat eating environment helps us feel like the world is less out of control and reduces the chances of eating from anxiety.
- End the meal on a favorite. Save the best for last. We tend to have a poor memory of what we eat and finishing a meal on a positive note makes us more likely to encode it in our brains. The more satisfied you are after a meal, the less likely you are to eat a lot later.
Digital Apps that Actually Help us
There are even apps for our mobile devices which can act as a mindfulness coach. Buddhify (4.99 on iTunes and Google Play) gives mindfulness a modern fun edge with bright graphics and solo or guided meditations you can do during the most chaotic junctures in life.
Then there is Headspace. Headspace is great for beginners. It was created by a Tibetan Buddhist monk. It has a website and app for your phone. The 10-day introductory meditation program is free and must be completed before you can access additional content packs. The total membership is $12.95 per month.
Another subscription based app is Calm. The app is free, but subscriptions start at 12.99 per month. Calm helps you take a break from the confines of day-to-day craziness. It helps guides you through some breathing exercises and traditional meditation practices; some free and some for a fee.
Whil was created by the founders of the yoga line Lulu-lemon. It helps you power down your mind and leads you through traditional guided meditations as well as video yoga sessions. Input your mood, your intention and the amount of time you can spare, and the app combs through its database and IDs the most fitting option. It is a free app.
Living with Intention
Another practice to help us become mindful, is living with intention. What I mean by living with intention, is each day when we get up, we set an intention. It may be, “today I want love in my life”, or, “today I am going to help someone”, “I’m going to be mindful today”. Living with intention is merely setting small goals for the day. These goals are not your common goals such as, “today I am going to drink my water,” these goals come from the heart and soul, from deep within, a place where we get clarity and manifest our desires for happiness, acceptance, love and health. In thinking about our intents each morning, we cultivate and create a climate in which they are more likely to happen (Chopra, 2017).
The notion of living with intent has been around for more than a millennium. Many Wisdom traditions from around the world talk about intent is the driving force of creation. They explain how these thoughts or intentions that come from our soul can actually manifest what happens in our life.
Intention is also about living every moment of your life with integrity and keeping with what matters most to you. Living your beliefs and deepest values. Being true to you. Living with intent, just like being mindful, takes practice and commitment, but reaps huge benefits to our bodies, minds, and our souls. Deep meditation and prayer has been proven to improve and heal people’s lives. Deepak Chopra believes that our consciousness is a fundamental force, as basic as gravity, but we don’t have the scientific tools to understand it yet. He feels it could be that conscious intention generates electrostatic or magnetic energy and the invisible flow has a small but measurable effect on behavior; our own as well as others’.
The six strategies of intent are much like the strategies of being mindful. To help us live a life full of intent, we need to Incubate, Notice, trust, express, nurture and
Incubate: Quiet your mind to tap into your deepest intentions; see where this leads.
Notice: Become mindful of your thoughts and actions, and pay attention to what they tell you about what gives you meaning and a sense of purpose—and look for signs that can point you toward your true path.
Trust: Have confidence in your inner knowing—and in the messages the Universe sends you—and allow that knowledge to guide you forward.
Express: Write down your intentions, say them out loud or share them with others to fully embrace them and help you move ahead in your journey.
Nurture: Be gentle with yourself as you try to find your way. Intention isn’t always a straightforward path and can be confusing, just as life. Giving yourself opportunities to try—and fail—is often part of, and even crucial to, the process.
Take Action: Once you’ve identified an intent, or even multiple ones, don’t sit and wait for it to magically manifest; instead take the practical steps that can make each become a reality. It may be easiest to choose one intent first and set short-term goals to help you get started. Why not just drift along without making the effort to clarify what you want? Because God helps those who help themselves. Live your life to its fullest potential! Embrace your purpose, however large or small it may be! Where would you like to go? What do you want in your life? What’s calling your name? Don’t wait for it to come to you, make it happen
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