We've all heard the buzzword "mindfulness" in recent years. Many organizations are realizing that in order to reduce stress, we have to stop thinking about the future all the time and just be in the moment.
Here at Chocolate Villa, we teach different ways to focus in, listen to your emotions, and reduce stress. Mindfulness is a great way to do all three.
But just what is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn, a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, sums it up this way:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Easier said than done, right? For those of us used to living by our to-do lists, and thinking about what we have to do next, it can be a challenge to focus in on the present moment.
Let's take Kabat-Zinn's quote and break it down into the three essential parts of mindfulness: paying attention on purpose, paying attention in the present moment, and paying attention non-judgmentally.
1. Paying attention on purpose
Mindfulness means that you are making a conscious decision to be in the present moment. By choosing to experience every millisecond of the present moment, and gently swiping aside any thoughts that enter in and try to interrupt the present moment, we reduce stress and train our minds.
Take eating, for example. If you are practicing mindfulness while eating, you are paying attention to every morsel of food that comes into your mouth. You are lightly noticing the shapes, textures, and colors of the food, while not lingering on it.
Having the purpose of being fully present—whether your focusing on the breath, an emotion, or a simple act like eating—actively shapes our minds.
2. Paying attention in the present moment
Humans are one of few living creatures who often ignore the present moment. But by focusing on past events or always looking into the future, we miss out on a lot. Paying attention to the present moment means just that: allow any other thoughts to drift in one ear, and out the other. If you suddenly find that you've been reliving a recent emotional event or occurance, quietly label it "thought" and let it drift away, bringing your attention back to the present moment.
A useful exercise to practice this is just to sit quietly with your eyes loosely focused on an area on the ground about 3 feet in front of you. Start to pay attention to your breath, and only your breath. Feel the breath pass over your lips or into your nose when you inhale. Feel how your chest or stomach expands and contracts. Let any thoughts that interrupt lightly drift away—you're in the present moment.
3. Paying attention non-judgmentally
This is a big one. If you catch yourself totally immersed in a big, juicy, emotional thought, don't be hard on yourself. Don't allow any negative self-talk to enter in. Just lightly label it "thought" and let it drift away. Mindfulness is difficult: Buddhist masters spend their entire lives trying to master it. Accept what arises and observe it mindfully, but always be gentle and kind to yourself.