Basic Mindfulness Skills: What Are They??
Have you ever heard the expressions, “you can only live in this moment” or “stay present”? These are both different ways of saying “stay mindful.” As you and I both know, this is easier said than done. There is so much going on around us and inside of us all at one time every day of the week. Obviously, right now, you are reading this blog, breathing, listening to what is going on around you while at the same time thinking about what else you might need to be doing and feeling some kind of way about not engaging in it. It may be that you are noticing bodily sensations, such as the beating of your heart, that itch you feel, or the warmth from the sun on your arm. You may also be aware of tired or energized you are or how sad or happy you feel. There is so much going on that we cannot possibly be 100% present all the time, but the fact is, the more you practice mindfulness skills the more present you can be to each moment that presents itself in your life. By doing so you can decrease the amount of pain and stress you feel and increase pleasant emotions like happiness and joy, not to mention improve your health, relationships, and overall well being. Who wouldn’t want that, right?
It is important to start with paying attention to what state of mind you are in. We have three states of mind, the rational state of mind where we are governed by completing tasks and logic, the emotional state of mind where our emotions rule and make the decisions for us about what to say and how to behave, and lastly, we have a third state called the wise mind. This state of mind consists of an equal balance of both the rational and the emotional mind where mindfulness is the name of the game. I can imagine that you can recall a time when your pendulum swung all the way either to the left (rational mind) where the only thing you could focus on was checking things off your list disregarding how others may have felt or you yourself felt. Others may have even called you “cold” or “rude.” You may also recall a time where your pendulum swung to the right (emotion mind) where you said or did something that hurt someone’s feelings and made things worse for yourself or someone else. Being in either of these states of mind can lead to distress and has the potential to come between you and another person. If you can begin by being mindful of the state of mind that you are in, you can then determine what it is that you need to do to find the balance between the two (wise mind), that place where wisdom lives and decisions are made that work for you.
So, exactly “what” do you need to practice being able to locate that place of wisdom in yourself? You first must practice observing with your senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) not only what is going on outside of yourself but inside as well. It is about controlling your attention and focusing on the facts only, resisting the urge to grab hold of anything or, just the opposite, push it away, just allowing things to be as they are. You can then identify what the facts bring up in you, a feeling or a thought. You may have been told not to assume anything. If you are being mindful, you are not assuming, you are simply stating what information you have gathered through your senses, which is based on fact and not opinion, and what it has made you think and feel. Observe first and then describe with an I statement. An example of such is “I notice that you have your arms crossed and I am thinking that you are angry with me. It makes me feel uneasy.”
So, “how” do we go about being mindful? Let’s start with just doing one thing at a time. We belong to a culture that encourages us to multitask and “do, do, do;” therefore, it is hard to break away from being in the doing mind and focus on completing one task at a time. When we get caught up in the business of life, we miss out on the things we value the most like peace, relationships, and beauty. Research has even shown that multitasking is not efficient or effective, it actually complicates things, causes frustration and confusion, and can even cost you time. Being one-mindful on the other hand gives you the ability to give your undivided attention to a task and complete it in an effective manner. You even have permission to toggle between two tasks giving each task the attention it deserves to be successful in completing it. It promotes peace, clarity, and satisfaction. When it is time to worry, worry. When it is time to eat, eat. When it is time to clean, clean. When it is time to rest, rest. Be mindful, not have a mind full!
In addition, it is important to practice mindfulness while letting go of the notion that something must be either “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong,” “worthwhile” or “worthless.” This is a matter of opinion and not based on fact since it cannot be observed with our senses. You become judgmental when we evaluate worth or value, which is only true in the eye of the beholder and may not be true in the eye of another. You can learn to let go of those words that pass judgment and the idea that others “should” define the world the way you do and/or that you yourself “should” be different than who you are. We can simply begin to describe how you feel, what you believe, or what you want to be different by using I statements, such as “I would like to behave differently” or “I feel hurt by how you are taking to me” and you can do this without judging yourself or others.
Learning to become more mindful takes intentional “practice, practice, practice” of the mindfulness skills. The good thing is that it only takes a few minutes per day and the skills may be practiced anytime, anyplace, and anywhere. It does take energy, distractions can make it challenging, and it can be difficult at first just like when you are learning any new skill, but the outcome will be worth it! I don’t know anyone that does not want to increase their happiness and improve their overall well-being!
Here are just a few ways to practice mindfulness to help you get started:
Observe an object using as many senses as you possibly can. Notice what it looks like, sounds like, smells like, feels like, tastes like, the urges it causes you to have. Facts only!
Observe thoughts coming in and out of your mind by imagining that you are sitting in a field and that your thoughts are like clouds drifting away one at a time. Resist the urge to attach to any one thought.
Observe your breath and the rise and fall of your stomach as you breathe.
Describe your thoughts and feelings using “I feel” and “I think” statements when you experience something that causes strong emotion.
Replace judgment by stating only what is observed through your senses and how it made you feel without blaming yourself or others.
Think through each step you take while taking it as you practice mindful awareness of making and drinking a warm beverage, taking a shower, or cleaning the house.
HAPPY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE!