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 brains 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, cognitive abilities, and internal sense of resilience, we do mindfulness practices.
When I first started practicing mindfulness, I felt anxious and overwhelmed.
I began to withdraw from activities I enjoyed and from the people I loved. The voice in my head kept telling me that I wasn’t smart enough or pretty enough. I thought 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. I knew I had to do something differently.
That’s what brought me to meditation
At first, the critical voices in my head became even louder and more insistent. It was uncomfortable, so I’d get up and get busy by eating something, drinking something, or getting lost in a mindless TV show. This only resulted in more self-loathing for my “inability” to stick to anything and for not being able to escape the addictions I was developing. Seeing that these habits caused more pain, I would once again sit down and attempt to practice.
Those first months were really hard. Thankfully, I had some good teachers who encouraged me to keep coming back.
Eventually, I started having glimpses
I began to experience 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’m so thankful for those teachers and for those early glimpses of another possibility. Over time, I’ve witnessed the many beautiful gifts these practices can give us.
Here are a few I’d like to share today…
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. I could even say a quiet “thank you for your opinion,” to that critical voice in my head. My natural creativity slowly emerged and overwhelm started to fade into the background.
Mindfulness strengthens our resilience and ability to see the big picture
With mindfulness, I felt more emotionally stable. 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. This resilience built my confidence. I knew that any setback wasn’t the end of the world. My confidence inspired me to procrastinate less and stay more organized, and these skills made it easier to set and reach my goals. All of this started merely with sitting to practice!
Mindfulness connects us with others
My most cherished gift from mindfulness practice is relational. As I cultivated more empathy for myself, my compassion for others expanded rapidly. My friendships deepened, and I found it much easier to work through the rough spots of relating. 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 collaboration. I could feel 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.
All of this together brought me a sense of calm and ease that, in my old life, I would never have believed possible.
I practice mindfulness because it makes me a better wife, mother, friend, business person, and teacher. But most of all, I practice because it connects me to my true self, allowing me to live from a place of inner peace, creativity, and resilience.
It makes me wonder, how mindfulness might change your life?