By Sue Patton Thoele
Author of The Mindful Woman
Mindfulness is being aware of yourself, others, and your surroundings in the moment. Well-known mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines it this way: Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. I also like to think of mindfulness as the art of inhabiting your own life with kindness and acceptance.
When first entertaining the idea of practicing mindfulness in a conscious, committed way, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I absolutely believed that I would love the peace of mind and sense of balance that those who practiced mindfulness seemed to enjoy. On the other hand, I groaned inwardly at the thought of adding yet another guilt-inducing "should" to an already full schedule. Two different things tempered my concerns and helped me make a wholehearted commitment to the practice of mindfulness. One was noticing how calm, accepting, and humorous people were whom I knew practiced mindfulness regularly. I wanted more of that appealing equanimity and joy. The other realization was a semi-embarrassing "Duh!" Instead of making mindfulness a guilt-inducing chore, I could simply choose to make practicing mindfulness a joy and celebrate each small step taken.
Because my goal in personal practice is to create a guilt-free and supportive atmosphere, I've adopted the adage A few mindful moments make a world of difference as my motto. And a few mindful moments do make a world of difference. Probably, we can all summon memories of experiences that are branded indelibly in our minds and hearts. They may be as simple as watching the moon rise or as miraculous as being at a baby's birth. Remembering such things can feel as if we're having the experience all over again. We can actually embody the same physical feelings, or the deep sense of awe and mystery, that were present at the actual event. But why do these particular memories stick with us in such vivid detail while so many others fade into oblivion? What do these indelible memories have in common? We paid attention when the original events were happening. Our brains, hearts, and minds where present during the experience, not projected into the future or ruminating in the past. We were there, alive and receptive, fully inhabiting our lives in that moment.
As parents, anyone who has been in an intimate relationship, and even animal trainers know, you get more cooperation and a better response from others by accentuating and appreciating acceptable behaviors than you do by emphasizing and berating undesirable ones. In other words, we catch more bees by using the honey of kindness and approval than we do by wielding the bludgeon of guilt. The same is true of your relationship with yourself. Energy and enthusiasm flow where your attention goes. Therefore, in keeping with my guilt-free motto, I try not to dwell on how few mindful minutes I may have had so far today; but, rather, gently remind myself to become more mindful right now. It can also be helpful to revisit mindful moments at the end of the day and congratulate yourself on your expanding awareness. Affirming even what may seem the smallest of successes encourages you to continue practicing mindfulness one tiny little moment at a time.
The following practice helps me begin and end the day with a few mindful moments.
Practice . . .
Wake up to breath . . .
•Before getting out of bed in the morning, tune into your breath and simply be aware of it without trying to change it. Do this for five or six breaths.
•Express gratitude for at least two things. For instance, waking up to another day, sleeping as well as you did, or for a dream you remember.
•Set an intention for the day. For example, "Today I will practice kindness." "Today, I will eat in a healthy way." or "I will give each of the kids five minutes of undivided attention today."
Rest in breath . . .
•Before going to sleep at night, turn your attention to your breath. Rest in it quietly for several effortless inhalations and exhalations.
•Review and relive mindful moments experienced during the day. Thank yourself for being aware and present. Think about constructive choices you made and congratulate yourself for making them.
•Ask to be protected as you sleep.
Each mindful moment remembered and celebrated makes a world of difference in our willingness to continue practicing.
Well-known mindfulness teacher, Pema Chodron says, Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves. One of the wonderful things about adopting a guilt- free attitude toward our mindfulness practices in particular, and ourselves in general, is that our personal outlooks are effected. When not carrying a self-induced burden of guilt, our hearts can open more fully and, as a result, shower compassion and kindness on both ourselves and others.
With commitment, not pressure
Feel heart opening.
Copyright © 2008 Sue Patton Thoele
Sue Patton Thoele is a psychotherapist, former hospice chaplain, and bereavement group leader. She is author of eleven other books, including The Courage To Be Yourself, The Woman's Book of Soul, Growing Hope, Freedoms After 50, and The Woman's Book of Courage. Sue and her husband, Gene, live in Colorado near their adult children and grandchildren.
For more information, please visit www.suepattonthoele.com