These days, the word “mindfulness” has become ubiquitous across many industries including healthcare, school, work, and wellness, as well as platforms including social media, books, magazines, and more. But, what do we mean when we talk about mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness of our inner and outer experience.
Mindfulness practices are the things we do to strengthen our brain and to make mindfulness accessible.
When we want our bodies to become stronger and healthier, we lift weights, do aerobic exercise, or practice yoga; when we want to strengthen our awareness and cognitive abilities, we do mindfulness workouts.
How I Got Started
When I first started practicing mindfulness, I felt anxious and overwhelmed. Over time, I began to withdraw from activities I enjoyed and from the people I loved. The voice in my brain kept telling me that I wasn’t smart enough or pretty enough and that people just tolerated me because they didn’t really know me. I was scared; I’d seen my mother spiral into a depression she couldn’t escape from, so I had to do something.
That’s what brought me to meditation
At first, the critical voices in my head became even louder and more insistent when I tried to meditate, so I would get up and get busy by eating something, drinking something, or getting lost in a mindless TV program or book. As a result, I just ended up with more self-loathing for my inability to stick to anything and for the addictions I was developing.
Since I’d tried everything else, I felt I was out of options; I would once again sit down and attempt to calm my mind and pay attention to my breath. Those first months were really hard, but I had some good teachers who encouraged me to keep coming back.
Eventually, I started having glimpses of the moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness that was supposed to be the hallmark of mindfulness. I started to question my assumptions; maybe I wasn’t so dumb, unmotivated, and ugly after all. Maybe there was some hope.
That was many years ago, and I am so thankful for those teachers and for those early glimpses of another possibility. Over time, I have witnessed the many beautiful gifts these practices can give us. So, what are the gifts of mindfulness?
Mindfulness Strengthens Our Curiosity and Openness to Experience
Over the years, my tentative, non-judgmental awareness turned into curiosity and sometimes even wonder. I became more open to new experiences and people. I took on new adventures and began to take more risks. The things I tried didn’t always turn out well, but I always learned something, and I could even say a quiet “thank you for your opinion,” to that nasty voice in my head. I discovered that I did have some creativity and that the overwhelm was fading into the background.
Mindfulness Strengthens Our Resilience and Ability to See the Big Picture
With mindfulness, I felt more emotionally stable, and I was proud that people could count on me—and, even more, that I could count on myself. Being able to see the big picture, the sad, angry, or anxious moments became a smaller and smaller feature in the tapestry of my life. When they did arrive, I could easily bounce back and pick up the pieces. As I developed more confidence that each setback wasn’t the end of the world, I began procrastinating less, I was more organized, and I found it easier to set and reach my goals.
Mindfulness Connects Us With Others
The best part, though, was what happened to my relationships. As soon as I started having more empathy for myself, my compassion for others expanded exponentially. My friendships deepened, and I found it much easier to work through the rough spots. My ability to work with others improved. The voice in my head that was always prodding me to prove myself and my worthiness was replaced by a sense of abundance and the realization that we really do get more done when we work together. I began to trust others, and I felt that they trusted me.
Embracing the Possibilities
All of this together brought me a sense of calm and ease that, in my old life, I would never have believed possible. I gained some perspective on the stories I was telling myself and I saw that those stories were just thoughts and that there really was a deeper reality.
I practice mindfulness because it makes me a better partner, wife, mother, business person, and teacher. But most of all, it gave me back my true self and allowed me to uncover my inner strength.
How might you benefit from the practice of mindfulness?