This article is shared with permission from our friends at www.artofwellbeing.com.
If you practice mindfulness throughout the day, you will become a highly present sort of person. Fact.
Ultra-presence can look like a variety of things: zeal, enthusiasm, ‘aliveness’, alertness, extreme purposefulness. These are the attributes I personally embody when I am practicing mindfulness a lot. (I don’t really do ‘zen’ and ‘calm’ – though you might)!
When you practice everyday mindfulness, there is less attending on whatever psychological complaint happens to be plaguing your hour, and more attending on whatever matters are in hand.
It sounds awesome because it is.
What Mindfulness Could Do For You
Can you imagine how life would be if you were being present a lot of the time (instead of ‘going into your head’)?
It might look like this:
You can notice other people’s needs more.
You effectively distinguish between what’s ‘urgent’ and what’s ‘important’ in your workload (read this for an explanation of the difference).
You can recognize when you are acting out of impulse and – potentially – stop yourself from acting out.
You are clearer on what you actually enjoy doing and what you don’t – pastimes and people.
You experience very little ‘added’ (from the mind) stress.
You are more equipped to handle a problem because you are responding to all of the information.
Your energy levels naturally increase as less is wasted by wafting off into the abysss of your dilemmas/problems.
Decision-making is much improved. This was a big one for me (see below).
There is more energy for the important stuff in life. Like goals, and people.
You do less procrastinating as the gap between thinking, doing and being is smaller.
Being present (which is like a state of acceptance) is a dynamic state. By doing less with our minds, we get access to more. I like the way Chris Kresser puts it: ‘Acceptance allows us to see clearly, to be truthful with ourselves, to receive the wisdom that each situation offers us.’
How Being Mindful Benefits Me
What I personally value about practicing everyday mindfulness:
It helps me to deal appropriately with emotional upsets caused by having difficult conversations. I probably spend more time ‘responding’ rather than ‘reacting.’
Related to that, I am more able to see things as they are, rather than being at the mercy of what my psyche has made of events. Which – let’s face it – by definition is horribly limited, when you think about it.
I’m a lot more decisive and experience less conflict about my decisions.
In short, it anchors me. Along with movement, getting adequate sleep and eating quality food, practicing mindfulness is the single most important thing I do for my psychological well-being.
That is not to say that I always do use it – sometimes I want to jazz up the present moment with a little productive or counter-productive brain safari. That’s a conscious decision and quite different to getting lost in thought.
Incidentally, my mindfulness habit is not a thing I talk about…ever. I hadn’t actually considered myself an active mindfulness proponent before I started to write this post. I think that many of us were using this tool before it became such a buzzword, and sometimes labeling things can be a distraction.
Meditation Vs. Mindfulness
I do not meditate currently. That is, I do not set time aside in my day for a meditation practice. I do bring a meditative state to my daily activities.
Meditation is one key vehicle for developing a mindfulness habit. There are others (see below).
As any seasoned meditator would tell you, there is a high value in maintaining a regular meditation practice. For me, I can see that where I do come unstuck in life, the ‘cycles’ would probably be shorter if I had that meditation muscle at my disposal.
Meditating can also be lot more ‘focused’ towards a particular benefit than just straightforward mindfulness. Meditators are more equipped directors of their realities and experience. It is also looking likely that there are enhanced health benefits associated with being in those deeper meditative states.
These Are The Merits, But What is The Actual Difference Between The Two?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic defines mindfulness as, ‘paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.’ Headspace defines it as ‘the intention [emphasis added] to be present in the here and now, fully engaged in whatever is happening, free from distraction or judgement, with a soft and open mind.’
Headspace’s definition of meditation is ‘the simple exercise to familiarize oneself with the qualities of mindfulness. It is a way of providing the optimum conditions for training the mind to be calmer, clearer and kinder.’
In Summary: meditation could be described as a sort of ‘stage setter’ for mindfulness. You can develop mindfulness without ‘officially meditating,’ and meditation’s potential as a tool of personal transformation probably extends beyond what mindfulness has to offer.
Mediation/Mindfulness Health Benefits
The science on this subject is snowballing, and I think that we have barely scratched the surface in terms of what health benefits are available to us when we practice mindfulness and meditate.
One recent study found that those who practice everyday mindfulness tend to have healthy glucose levels. The study also showed that they are a less likely to be obese in the first place, as they’re more likely to believe they can change many of the important things in their life. Powerful stuff.
Another study highlighting the link between mindfulness and resilience found that ‘mindful people … can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down (emotionally).’
A non comprehensive list of the benefits associated with meditation: relief from chronic pain, relief from anxiety and depression symptoms, improvement to decision making, changes memory, sense of self, empathy levels and stress, improved perception and attentiveness, better levels of attention and longevity enhancement.
As you can see, this really is something worth doing.
A (Very Brief and Whimsical) Tour of The Types of Meditation
You’ll find a lot more detail on the different kinds of meditation in the reading material I have linked to below.
Mindfulness: Where you focus on an object, such as the breath, bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, or sounds. Practice is often extended to daily actions, such as eating, walking, driving, or housework.
Concentrative: The objective is to cultivate a single-pointed attention on some object, such as a sound, an image, the breath, or a flame. The most well-known and researched form of the concentrative type in the West is Transcendental Meditation (TM).
Open Awareness: The objective is to open the mind into a panoramic awareness of whatever is happening without a specific focus. Often this awareness is compared to the spacious sky or a river with objects floating by. The capacity to be present with whatever arises is developed through this practice.
Guided Meditation: Where you follow auditory guidance from a teacher or recording that elicits certain images, affirmations, states (such as peacefulness), or imagined desired experiences. This type is often used to rehearse successful outcomes of procedures, such as surgery or an athletic performance.
The Institute of Noetic Sciences says: “There are scores of variations of meditation, most of which range along a continuum of some combination of concentration and open awareness techniques. Defining and understanding the type of meditation being practiced represents some of the most important and challenging factors in the field of scientific meditation research. The difficulty of creating clear and consistent definitions of meditative practices is evidenced by the discrepancies found in many academic descriptions of meditation.”
How to Actually Do Everyday Mindfulness
The idea is to use cues to take the focus away from the internal chatter. You are aware of your thoughts and feelings but you aren’t being defined by them.
Note that this is not the same as ‘distracting’ yourself, stuffing thoughts away, resisting them or ‘transcending’ them (although the last thing is probably the closest).
It’s more accurate to say you are purposely directing your attention back to the present moment, like a little game with yourself. And you repeat that new neural pathway until the path is well-trodden.
I have several cues, or ‘access points’, that I use for a more mindfully spent moment:
My environment – This is particularly easy when it’s new. I think this is partly why we get so much from travelling.
Paying attention to bodily sensations – Any seasoned yogi will be practiced at doing this. The feeling of your butt on the chair, etc. We tend to be very mindful naturally when we are engaging in certain enjoyable bodily pursuits.
Reading whilst switching off all other distractions.
Exercising, especially walking and running.
Generally being disciplined about doing one thing at a time.
Other people – I’m deliberate about showing up with people fully. Everyone. Even the coffee barrister. I avoid checking my phone during these interactions. In fact, when I do have the strong urge to check my phone a lot around people, it is usually those I have a challenging time being present with for whatever reason.
Precursors – Impulse, Control and Healthy Lifestyle
A starting place before you can even practice mindfulness is having some sort of presence of mind. And that is largely predicated on your health. Which is why you can’t isolate a healthy diet, movement and a well rested body from living mindfully. All of these things affect our impulse control.
If impulse control is a problem for you (and you’ll know if it is), then mindfulness is also going to be more challenging. I think it’s helpful not seeing it as a permanent way of being (even if it is something that has been with you for a while), bringing as much awareness as possible to your lapses of self-control, and slowly slowly wrestling that monkey down.
Appreciate the importance of setting yourself up for a win by managing your brain chemistry through food and lifestyle choices.
Perspectives/Resources on Mindfulness and Meditation
The best free audio resource I have found. Will actually walk you through a mindfulness session, or a type of meditation called ‘progressive relaxation.’
Conscious Evolution’s 20 tips for meditation beginners.
Tara Brach’s guided meditations.
Zen Habits’ meditation for beginners.
‘Fuck that’ meditation. Not sure I am on board with this one, it’s just here for entertainment.
How to meditate whilst on cannibas. Interesting. I will leave it at that.
Deepak Chopra’s explanation of meditation.
MindBody Green’s meditation infographic.
Wildmind’s online meditation resources.
Mindful’s audio resources.
Live and Dare’s 23 types of meditation.
Joe Dispenza’s book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. I got a lot from reading this.
Getting Your Om On
OmHarmonics is a pretty epic set of meditation audios of varying lengths you can use at the different junctures in your day. It will help you eliminate the barriers to meditation if you are struggling.
If you are a heavy auditory type (and even if you’re not), it will suit. Like I say, the beauty of OmHarmonicsis that you can use the tracks for different stages throughout your day, such as waking up, being productive at work, or recovering from a hectic day. Each track comes in 2 versions: 30-minutes and 15-minutes.
They are a bit of a magic button for getting into deep meditation quickly.
Get a free kit here.
Everyday mindfulness is a powerful tool that will help you kick-ass in life, and has myriad benefits for your health. Zero doubts given.
What are your favorite resources for mindfulness/meditation? Get in touch!