What does it mean to be mindful?

If you are part of the Living Type Me Facebook Group, you will have seen a lot of posts over the past few months about the benefits of mindfulness. Many people have asked me what mindfulness is. I will attempt to answer their question here.

Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Basically, mindfulness means being aware of and controlling your experience. You are in the moment acting, not reacting, to life.

When we are not mindful, we speak without thinking. We allow our emotions to get out of control. We are worrying about the future or regretting the past. We feel the victim of circumstances, events, and others. Without mindfulness, we are a two-year-old child. We cry when our needs are not met. We don’t understand cause and effect. We expect others to take care of us. We can’t see past obstacles. We are powerless and overly emotional.

Mindfulness is being aware in each and every moment. How often do you go about your day without really being present? Have you ever driven to work and not realized how you got there? Have you found words coming out of your mouth without realizing it? When you are mindful each action, word, and thought are conscious. Being mindful means taking responsibility for what we are thinking, saying, and doing – and if it is not the experience we want, we change it.

One parable to help with mindfulness is about a young monk at a monastery.  He sees a wise old monk and asks him for the key to enlightenment. The old monk says, “Wash your bowl from breakfast.” The young monk races to the kitchen with his bowl, washes it quickly, and then returns to the old monk waiting for his words on enlightenment. The old monk again says, “Wash your bowl.” Or as Yoda would say, “Be one with the bowl.” The message is that enlightenment is achieved through mindfulness. It is not until the young monk can be in 100% in the moment while he is doing something as simple as washing a bowl that he is fully mindful, and being mindful is the foundation for enlightenment.

I first learned about mindfulness by reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Two quotes from him which give insight into mindfulness are:

“In my walks, I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” Thoreau is helping us be in the present moment. Be at work when you are work. Be with your family when you are with your family. Make sure your mind is where your body is.

“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry – determine to make a day of it.” Nature is a great teacher of mindfulness. A tree in summer does not spend its day worrying of the winter. Forest creatures do not panic if the path is not clear; they adapt and flow with all that is brought to them. Nature teaches us to be present, be aware, don’t judge, and simply experience.

Is mindfulness clearer to you now? What questions do you have about mindfulness? How can you begin to become more mindful throughout your day?

Next week we will explore how to become more mindful.

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