“The content and quality of our lives depends on our level of awareness.” – Sharon Salzberg
“There is one thing we always need, and that is the watchman named mindfulness – the guard who is always on the lookout for when we get carried away by mindlessness.” – Tulku Urgyen, Tibetan Master
This month we are in the process of cultivating our spiritual life through the practice of various rituals, habits, and new ways of being in the world. The practice I think is the most fundamental to cultivating our spiritual life and living in your flow is the practice of mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means being fully present and aware of what is happening in the moment without judgment. It is deliberately paying attention to what is happening both inside yourself – your body, emotions, thoughts, and outside yourself – your environment. I like to think of mindfulness as being aware that you’re aware.
You can only live in your flow when you are mindful about what’s real and authentic for you in this moment.
Joseph Goldstein writes in contribution to the book, The Mindfulness Revolution, “Mindfulness is the basis for wise action. When we see clearly what is happening in the moment, wisdom can direct our choices and actions rather than old habits simply playing out our patterns of conditioning.” Simply put, mindfulness is the golden key to living in the flow of your life and navigating life with ease. When you are mindful you can clearly see and feel what’s right for your life in each moment which leads to wise action or what I call authentic action which is exactly how you live in your flow with ease and grace. You are able to live more authentically in the flow of your life because you are making mindful and wise choices based on what’s true now and not on past drama or future speculation.
Another benefit of Mindfulness is that it lessens your suffering and instills in you a greater sense of peace.
If you are being mindful you will notice that in this moment you are okay. The pain and suffering you may be experiencing is most likely due to something that happened in the past or something you are dreading in the future. Most likely in this very moment you are okay and nothing is causing your suffering other than your thoughts about something that has happened or may never happen. Mindfulness allows you to embrace the peace of this moment and see that life is never as bad as your mindless imagination is making it out to be.
Mindfulness helps you stop doing so much meaningless sh**.
Mindfulness is about being and not doing. Unfortunately, many of us are living in a mindless autopilot fog. We are often so busy going about the business of the day, in perpetual doing mode as we work to get through the tasks of our never-ending To Do List, that we look up to find that our day or week was a blur and we really didn’t accomplish anything truly meaningful or worth talking about. Yet had we been more mindful we would have realized that most of the tasks on our To Do List were a big waste of time and could have waited or been nixed all together. As I mentioned in the post, Walk the Path of Effortless Ease, when you do less you accomplish more. Being mindful allows you to discern what’s really important and necessary before you get swept up in the current of doing that erodes your precious time and energy. Besides, the Universe knows you can’t it do it all, so stop feeling the pressure to get so many unimportant things accomplished. Trust that somehow all the inconsequential things will get done while you stay focused on what really does require your undivided attention.
You can use your unconscious reactions to trigger more mindful interactions.
Whenever you are having a reaction to something consider it as information and feedback about the level of consciousness and awareness present in the situation or moment. A couple of nights ago my husband and I blew up at each other over something unimportant and I realized that I was completely unconscious in that moment. I was in a not so good mood before our conversation and I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I was not mindful of my emotions and what was going on with me so in my unawareness I had an unreasonable reaction that was really about me being in a funky mood and not about our difference of opinion. When I saw how ridiculous my reaction was it let me see how reactionary our everyday conversations can become when we are not being mindful.
Here are some practices and steps you can take to cultivate mindfulness in your daily life:
Focus on Your Breathe
A part of being mindful is paying attention to your breath. So the first step to becoming more mindful is to focus on your breathing. Simply, pay attention as you breathe in and out.
In response to someone asking his advice on which spiritual courses they should take among a smorgasbord of offerings at a large spiritual organization, Eckhart Tolle said “Be aware of your breathing as often as you are able, whenever you remember. Do that for one year, and it will be more powerfully transformative than attending all of these courses. And it’s free.”
Breathing is free and effortless. All you have to do is focus you attention on your breath and watch this simple act transform your life.
It is hard to be mindful when you are rushing. When you do find yourself rushing, pay attention to that feeling and use it as a reminder to slow down and focus on where you are now and not where you’re trying to go. You miss opportunities to really enjoy life and savor precious moments when you are rushing about your day. Slowing down allows you to focus on what’s really important and to see and appreciate what’s in front of you.
Be Here, Now
Mindfulness is being truly present in the moment, completely focused on the Now. It’s about not letting ourselves get lost in thoughts about the past and the future. And if you’ve read Eckhart Tolle’s, The Power of Now, you know that awareness of the present moment is the key to all inner transformation.
In fact, all the spiritual teachers and self-help gurus are saying the same thing, maybe just in a slightly different way, but they’re all essentially saying that if you want to transform your life and be happy and find peace you have to BE PRESENT and live in the moment, in the here and now. Let me repeat, the key to happiness and peace in life is to BE PRESENT, focused on the NOW, not on the past or future.
We are often encouraged to demonstrate our ability to multitask when interviewing for a job because companies want to know that they are hiring someone who is going to be super productive and get things done in a fast-paced and high-energy work environment. Business managers need to adopt a new mind-set centered around mindfulness and the benefits in can have on productivity and getting things done. People are far more creative, productive and successful at their job when they can focus and give their undivided attention to one task at a time. Multi-tasking is not a strength. Stop doing it and make yourself more valuable in the long run.
Be the Witness
Be an observer of your thoughts and emotions. When you are feeling discomfort, anxiety, or fear for any reason, it’s a signal to pay attention and become a witness to those thoughts and emotions that are causing you discomfort without judging them or becoming attached to them or identified with them. Your discomfort is nothing but resistance that needs to be observed in order to dissolve it. The more your resist the more you suffer. So becoming mindful of your resistance and putting your attention on the emotional and physical demonstration of resistance will open the door to release it.
Pay Attention to Your Life
Sharon Salzberg says that “at its most basic level, attention – what we allow ourselves to notice – literally determines how we experience and navigate the world.” Your life is always speaking to you, giving you feedback and guiding you along your journey. When you’re on autopilot and you don’t pay attention to your life you are more likely to miss important information and messages about your life, opportunities, your health, and your relationships.
Learn to feel your life and pay attention to what arises in each moment both inside yourself and outside yourself so that you can live more authentically from a place of deep awareness and not from a place of conditioning. Notice what feels good and what doesn’t. Notice what resonates with you and feels authentic. Be mindful in all aspects of your life and listen for the whisperings of your inner wisdom. They won’t steer you wrong.
Joseph Goldstein says, “Retreat time is not a luxury. If we are genuinely and deeply committed to awakening, to freedom – to whatever words express the highest value we hold – a retreat is an essential part of the path.” Retreat allows you to go deeper into the practice of mindfulness. Whether you take a mini retreat for a few hours or a day or you take longer retreats for a few days to a few weeks or months, you will benefit from this time of solitude and inner silence.
Mindfulness sounds simple but it is not easy. It requires much practice to cultivate it as a natural way of life. It’s hard to be mindful consistently, each moment of your life when you have been so conditioned to do just the opposite. You and everyone else have gone through life obsessing about the past and future, sometimes in perpetual states of mindlessness. But you can choose differently starting now. Know that it will take some time and diligence on your part to undo your autopilot, multi-tasking, unfocused, mindless way of life and cultivate a more mindful way of interacting with and navigating your world. There will be many days you don’t feel you are making any progress but be kind and patient with yourself. Don’t let your frustrations trip you up and keep you from returning to your breath. Mindfulness is about taking one step at a time and being aware of each step. So slow down, breathe, and watch your step. Literally.