Revisiting Mindfulness

I first posted this in January of last year. For those of you who read my Buddhism posts, don’t be worried. Mindfulness training is not a gateway drug to Buddhism. What this does for you is really amazing. We humans let our minds wander constantly, always thinking of something other than what we’re doing. It’s the main reason why people can’t get to sleep. The mind is a hard thing to turn off. When you go to bed tonight (or today for you day sleepers) try counting your breaths. As you breathe in, feel your breath going in through your nose, and flowing down into and filling your lungs. As you breathe out, do the same thing in reverse. Say to yourself, “I breathe in” as you breathe in and “I breathe out,” as you breathe out. As soon as you notice you are thinking about something other than your breath, bring your mind back to it. At first you will find your mind wandering a lot but as time goes on and your try this every night/day, you will notice you get better at it. Not thinking about anything except your breath helps your mind to relax. Above all else, don’t get discouraged. Keep trying it.

“Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.”-Thich Nhat Hanh

Basically, that’s what Mindfulness is; being aware and awake to the present moment. Not letting your mind wander. When your mind wanders, you are thinking about the past or the future. The past is gone and the future is not here yet. In order to practice Mindfulness you need to let go of the past and the future and pay attention to now. Simple right? Kind of like learning Chess. You can learn the moves to Chess in 15 minutes. However, the strategy can take years to understand.

When my son Travis was in the sixth grade he got involved with the Chess Club in school. He was really excited about it and taught me how to play. My eleven year old son kicked my butt every time we played. Slowly over time I caught on and the first time I beat him he was shocked. He didn’t see it coming. Practicing Mindfulness is kind of like that. The concept is easy, but doing it is not. At first. Pretty much what you do is pay attention to what you are doing at this very moment without letting your mind wander. If you’re washing dishes, you pay attention to washing dishes. Scrubbing the dish, moving the sponge, rinsing and setting it in the dish drainer. Grabbing another dirty dish, all without letting other thoughts intrude on washing dishes.
Easy, right? Just don’t think about anything else. You can do it. For about three seconds. And then your mind wanders. But that’s okay. As soon as you realize you’re thinking about something else, gently bring your mind back to what you’re doing now. Don’t chastise yourself, don’t get mad and say, “This is too hard.” It is hard at first, but it gets easier. Remember my son teaching me Chess? I got creamed at first. But eventually I beat him. Not every time, but sometimes I won. It takes time and effort.
The upside of all this is to gain better concentration and also to worry less. If we are not daydreaming about the past or worrying about the future our minds will be clearer and we will enjoy our lives more because we are “there.” One of the most important things about Buddhism is Mindfulness. Now don’t let that scare you. You won’t become a Buddhist by practicing Mindfulness. Unless you want too. Which would be cool.

So, try some Mindfulness, see how it goes. Don’t get discouraged. It comes slowly. At first you’ll do it for a few seconds, then you’ll notice that you can last for a minute. Those little victories are fun. Mindfulness is the same technique used for meditating. With meditation, you concentrate on your breath. Breathe in, breathe out. So give it a try, and let me know how you do.
monk meditating

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