Mindfulness has grabbed the headlines, magazine covers, and is the theme of countless workshops. From corporations to elementary school classrooms, individuals are learning this practice called mindfulness.
Personally, I believe mindfulness seized the headlines and our attention because we are running too hard, too fast, and in too many directions. We are bombarded by email, text messages, social media, advertisements, and a slew of other attention-grabbing distractions in our daily lives. We’re getting things done, checking off our lists, busily planning our next steps while we’re still completing the previous ones. And yet, we rarely remember what happened in between. For years, multitaskers were revered. Today, new data reveals that we are far more productive and effective when we focus on one thing at a time. So, what is mindfulness?
One of my favorite definitions is by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading expert on the topic and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He says that “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” When we intentionally bring our awareness to the present moment, we can choose to experience that moment exactly as it is unfolding, not how we think it should or should not unfold based on previous experiences or expectations. When we allow the moment to unfold without attaching any judgment, there’s no right or wrong way to experience the moment. It is what it is. We become awake to our life. We are in it.
To explain mindfulness differently, let’s look at its opposite. Mindlessness. I’m sure we all have stories of driving from Point A to Point B, with no recollection of how you got there. Or perhaps you have driven right by your destination because you were so lost in your thoughts you forgot to turn in? And what about being served a sandwich or full plate of food, taking your first bite and the next thing you know, the food is gone? You shake your head and wonder where it went. These are the opposite of mindfulness. These are life on autopilot. Practicing being in the moment helps us intentionally enjoy every aspect of our lives, the exciting and the mundane.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, wrote John Lennon in Beautiful Boy. When we are so focused on “getting there” or on what just happened, we miss what’s happening right now. And right now, truly, is all we have.
Over the coming months, we’ll explore mindfulness in more depth and the practice of it in our personal and professional lives. I’m a student of mindfulness. I’m finding the more awake I am to now, the more I don’t want to miss it. Until next month …
Exercise in Mindfulness: In the next seven days, I invite you to eat a meal, alone or with another person, with no other distraction. No cell phone, television, newspaper, book, computer, social media, nothing other than your meal. Eat slowly and deliberately. Put your full focus on your meal. Savor and finish each bite before taking the next. Even if you find it boring, or slow, or you want to get it over with, try it anyway. It’s just one meal.