A word that is tossed around a lot these days. But what does it really mean?
In a teeny, tiny nutshell, it means to be in contact with the present moment, to be present with only one thing at a time. But how do we do it?
Practice. Mindfulness takes practice like anything else.
Mindfulness practice should be intentional. “I am intentionally going to practice mindfulness.”
Mindfulness practice should be free from judgement; objective. Don’t judge yourself or your thoughts. Just be present, notice. And when you do notice your judgments, don’t judge yourself for judging. Just be present. Just notice.
To practice mindfulness, I like to begin with an arbitrary focal point, or an assigned focal point. Typically, I practice mindfulness using my breaths as my focal point, or using one (or more) of my senses as my focal point.
Turn your attention to your focal point, and just notice. You may notice thoughts or feelings that are popping up in your mind. Just notice those, allow them room to be there, and gently turn your attention back to your focal point.
You may need to do this several times over a short period of time. That is normal and fine. The purpose of mindfulness is to be able to catch ourselves in those thoughts before we become caught up in the mental world of our thoughts and are no longer in the present moment, rather, we have fallen down the rabbit hole of our minds. So often one thought leads to another, and to another, and so on and so forth. And we are not overtly aware of the path we are on until we are deep in the rabbit hole of our minds and caught in a tangle of emotions. However, it is never too late to notice, and return our attention back to our focal point. Just notice the thoughts or the emotions you’ve become entangled with, and return your attention back to your focal point.
Mindfulness practice does not need to be for exceedingly long periods of time. Start with a minute and slowly build up. It’s not a competition. It’s practice.
What is mindfulness practice NOT? Mindfulness is not sitting and watching television. While you may be following your favorite program or movie closely, you are not in contact with the present moment. You are, for all intents and purposes, escaping to an alternate reality. You are not in the present. You are in a fictional realm of entertainment. This is not mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not forcefully trying to empty your mind of all thoughts. Rather, mindfulness is making room for and noticing your thoughts; neither pushing them out, nor holding onto them.
Mindfulness is being mentally present in your now.
Karen Rosian, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist