“Mindfulness practices enhance the connection between our body, our mind and everything else that is around us. Mindful living is the key to understanding our struggles with weight and to empowering us to control our weight.” — Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness is described as the state of being aware or conscious of things. By being mindful, not only can we be present, but we can also acknowledge and accept our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Mindfulness is so important, in fact, that some religions such as Buddhism cannot be practiced without being mindful.
In today’s overactive society, where we’re bombarded with stimuli from every direction, being mindful and present can be quite elusive. How can we expect to be mindful when there’s simply so many things going on? How can we achieve a zen-like state of present-awareness when there are so many things to tackle?
Mindfulness can be achieved by anyone, not just by Zen Buddhists. If you want to be mindful, there are 4 simple steps that you can take that will help extricate your shackled mind from living in a state of fear, worry, nervousness, and anxiety.Overall, you’ll find that by being mindful, you’ll live a happier life.
By being mindful, not only do we decrease our stress, but studies have shown that mindfulness reduces symptoms associated with common illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, pain, and insomnia. Mindfulness will also improve the quality of our lives and enhance our ability to pay attention to the things that really matter.
How to be Mindful
Often, we can forget about what’s really important in life. But mindfulness can help to right that wrong. Overall, there are 4 integral steps for living a more mindful life. Ensure that you embrace each step and not just one or two of them if you really want to achieve a state of mindfulness.
#1 – Take Responsibility for Our Minds
The first step to living a more mindful life is to take responsibility for what’s going on in our minds. Rather than escaping through some means such as alcohol, television, or another distraction, we have to accept and acknowledge our thoughts, emotions, and resultant bodily feelings.
When we don’t use escapism to tackle the problems in our lives, we become freer. We can notice and accept our thoughts, emotions, and bodily feelings rather than trying to run from them. We can watch as they pass over us like a storm moving across the water.
Taking responsibility simply means that we accept the past for what it is and we choose to live in the present. As the thoughts cross our minds and the emotions present themselves, we watch them as they come and go trying to remove all present judgments associated with them.
While difficult to do, taking responsibility for our minds isn’t an impossible feat. All we need to do is sit still for 5 minutes three times per day. As we sit still, we have to be aware and present of what’s happening in our minds and our bodies. All it takes is 5 minutes each time.
As you sit still, be mindful of your thoughts. What are you thinking about? Don’t allow your mind to wander to far. Just watch the thoughts and emotions as they swell over you like a wave washing ashore. Then, watch as the wave retreats back into the sea of thoughts in your mind.
Allow yourself to feel the feelings associated with the thoughts and emotions, but don’t dwell on them. Don’t fret about the past or worry about the future too much. Just watch the thoughts and emotions as they come and go. This will require practice. But you will perfect the art over time.
#2 – Be Compassionate and Kind
It’s easy to allow life’s stresses to sap us of our propensity for compassion and kindness. When we’re so worried about the day-to-day stresses in life, how are we expected to be mindful? But by instilling compassion and kindness into our lives, we can do just that.
Compassion and kindness are at the root of a mindful life. When we are compassionate, we learn to understand others and acknowledge their points of view. Our mind shifts from a state of selfishness to selflessness. Kindness is also similarly achieved when we live in a state of compassion.
How can we expect to be kind and compassionate when all we worry about is ourselves? But the world has far greater problems than just what’s on our plate. There are people in countries living in a far worse state of affairs than anything you or I could possibly ever imagine.
There are people suffering throughout the world from famine, disease, war, and poverty to the likes of which we cannot even comprehend. There is great oppression by totalitarian governments, children that are going hungry and dying of malnutrition, and endless pain and suffering in many places.
Although we cannot change the world, we can learn to be more compassionate and kind to others that are around us. In out particular sphere of influence, we can play our part to instill these two characteristics in our heart and become more mindful in the process.
We can achieve compassion and kindness through gratitude. By being grateful for what we have rather than what we don’t have, its easier to be kind and compassionate, leading to a more mindful life. By being grateful, we stop comparing ourselves with others who have more and start appreciating what we do have.
I know that I once struggled with gratitude. While constantly vying to excel in all areas of my life, I let gratitude slip to the wayside. But through experience and failure, I learned to be more grateful. It wasn’t easy. In fact, the road was wrought with pain and frustration. But I realized that all of that anguish was a blessing in disguise.
#3 – Yoga & Meditation
The art of meditation is not simple to perfect. Some people have to start with Yoga. But both Yoga and meditation help to create stillness in the mind. Yoga achieves that by opening the heart through a variety of stretches while meditation does so through a state of peace and oneness with the universe.
Whether you take up yoga or meditation, use one of these powerful techniques to become more mindful. But don’t do use to escape your problems; implement them to embrace your problems and reach a higher state of awareness.
Whichever one you decide to start with, understand that you’ll need to train the mind. Yoga is an active exercise whereas meditation is a silent exercise. But both require dedication and commitment. Results will not be achieved overnight. If you expect that, then you’ll likely fail at becoming more mindful.
However, over time, the effects of both Yoga and meditation will be enormous. They both act to implement neuroplasticity, or a change in the neurons of the mind due to a change in behavior. That resultant change increases the gray matter (the good stuff) in the mind helping to improve many cognitive functions.
#4 – Free the Heart
The final step to becoming more mindful is to free the heart. You must abandon resentment, guilt, and animosity towards others. By freeing the heart, we learn to let go of emotions that are weighing us down. Anytime we live in those states, it’s impossible to be mindful.
Mindfulness involves a conscious state of being present. And in order to achieve that, we mustn’t have negative emotions clouding the mind and body. Thoughts are things and when we have a negative thought we experience a resultant negative emotion in the body.
Negativity alters the neurochemistry of the brain and the physiology of the body. Negative thoughts release stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine that have a severe impact on our ability to be happy and present in the here-and-now.
But freeing the heart is not simple act. Especially for many who are caught up in the habitual nature of negative emotions, extricating one’s self from this state can be remarkably difficult. Yet, doing so must become a priority in life. Simply put, we cannot be mindful with closed hearts.