open-minded adjective adjective: open-minded 1.willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced. We all want to …
Mindfulness became a very popular word in the recent years. Mindful eating, mindful relationships, mindful education, mindful sex, mindful life, mindful everything.
Another new, trendy nonsense or something worth looking at closer?
First of all, mindfulness is actually nothing new. The concept was created and described in 1500 BCE in Hinduism in relation with yoga, later appeared in Daoism (6th c. BCE) in qì gong, an ancient exercise, and in most of the aspects of Buddhism. Mindfulness was also observed in the practice of Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
In the end of XX century, it was promoted in western nations, mostly by Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor of medicine and many zen teachers as a stress reducing technique.
What else being mindful can cause to your body?
Benefits of mindfulness
Thousands of studies have shown wide benefits of mindfulness. It’s been proven that being mindful increase the ability of our immune system to fight illnesses just after two months of practicing.
Staying mindful increases positive emotions and reduces stress at the same time.
Furthermore, it has an impact not only on how our brain works, but also changes its structure! The density of gray matter of our brains (related to learning, empathy, controlling emotions and memory) increases when we are fully mindful. But what actually is it all about?
What is mindfulness?
Researchers from Berkley University define mindfulness as ‘maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.’
It basically means ‘paying non-judgmental attention’ to what’s happening in your current life situation and not letting your mind to drift away unless you choose to.
Pretty obvious – many would say. But when we think closer, most of us probably would realize that actually in our cluttered world, where ‘being busy’ or ‘in a rush’ are almost glorified, we are rarely able to really notice and appreciate what’s around and inside us.
When we are kids, most of us tend to stay very present, observing the world with the admiration it deserves. Little humans often behave like extraterrestrial creatures who just landed on Earth and are having fun observe how it all works here. They cherish simple things, don’t plan and don’t regret.
When we grow older, most of us at some point stop appreciating our daily activities. We start taking our lives for granted – like there is something even better coming in the future. Instead of focusing on the unique experiences that occur every single moment of our lives, our minds start producing thoughts which distant as even more of what we could experience.
Compulsive thinking has become a serious disease of the humanity. We plan, we regret, we worry, and we desire stimulation all the time. We don’t appreciate everyday miracles: we can breathe, our body can do so many wonderful things, we can enjoy the sun and sky, and there are people who want to spend time with us. We often feel overwhelmed by our own thoughts, which our mind produces like crazy, making us prisoners inside our own heads.
Thinking only works in our favor if we can control what we are thinking about and how long we do it. Otherwise, we often create imaginary worlds in our head – usually worlds of desires or fears – which stops us from truly living our lives.
The only way to separate yourself from the noise of your mind and to reconnect with your true self by paying attention to the reality (as much as our brain let us do it).
How to train staying more conscientious?
Let’s clear it up – meditation doesn’t mean sitting in the lotus pose and thinking about how to stop thinking. Fighting against all the thoughts which are coming to your mind can be a good exercise, indeed, but a true meditation is something way wider.
Meditating means paying your utmost attention to you as a human being. It is switching of thinking and just being. Melting with the air. Sounds maybe a bit lame, but that’s how I feel it.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand I during a meeting with Buddhist monks I asked a teenage monk, “What is meditation?” His reply was, “You’ve just meditated”. This surprised me. Just moments before, I had been listening to his chubby monk friend talk about their lives in the monastery. I knew that the meeting would be short
This surprised me. That’s not what I thought. Just moments before, I had been listening to his chubby monk friend talk about their lives in the monastery. Simply that. I knew that the meeting would be short, and talking to monks was a unique experience for me so I did my best to stay focused on every second of it. I observed the monk and listening what he was saying with my fullest attention.
Apparently, that’s what meditation is.
Meditation can be anything you do with full passion and focus. It can be drawing, ice skating, lying on the grass and looking at the sky, and feeling the fresh air coming in and out of your body, hiking in silence. Whatever you like and able to do with full focus.
Meditating can be started by paying a close attention to your breathing.My favorite yoga teacher (who I seriously suspect of being capable of reading people’s minds), says that a deep breath is one bad emotion less. Breath slowly, deep and loud. Enjoy it.
Breath slowly, deep and loud. Enjoy it.
Connect better with your body
We are the inhabitants of our bodies. We are our bodies. Whatever philosophical approach you choose, the way you treat your body resonates with how we feel – not only physically, but also mentally.
Can you feel the small energy fields which give life to every cell of your body? The more attention you give to your body, the stronger this connection becomes. Running, yoga, walking, and other sports as well as paying attention to what you eat will make you more aware of your body and help you acknowledge its needs.
Try to be aware of your breath, even when doing simple things.
Enjoy the pleasant sensation of putting a balm on your body. Don’t ignore how your body feels after you eat the certain food. People say, “healthy body, healthy mind” for a reason.
Physical pain often makes us feel alive even stronger than positive experiences. I believe that’s why so many people get addicted to tattoos. It’s good to train yourself to handle small amounts of various extreme sensations. This will make you more connected to your body. For example, go to a sauna and then jump into a Siberian-temperature pool. Or, simply take a warm bath and finish it with a cold shower.
When you’re in a cold environment, treat it as a training for your mind – to increase your control over your body. Or, if warm temperatures bother you, treat them as just an experience. Enjoy how sweat comes out of your skin, how heat makes you feel like you’re melting. Anything can be an interesting experience if you frame it this way.
Do one thing at a time
How often do you do things that you can’t remember well? Imagine that you took a walk but you can’t remember even one person you’ve passed by. Your mind was maybe 15 minutes ahead, thinking about what’s next: the appointment you’re going to or what you have to do when you get back home. You don’t remember how your breakfast tasted because you were already wondering if there will be a traffic jam today or you checking your phone or reading while eating.
Even though we are often encouraged to multitask, many studies show that it’s not good for us. It decreases our concentration and makes us tired. Try to do one thing at the time, but with full focus.
During the same meeting with the young monks from Chiang Mai I got maybe my best lesson about mindfulness. When I asked for advice on how to be happier one of the monks said someone like this:
“eating eating eating”
“talking talking talking”
“thinking thinking thinking”
These “simple” activities require your full attention – if you want to stay mindful. I put “simple” in quotes because when you think about it more you will see that these activities are actually quite complex if you follow the next point.
Use all of your senses
We often forget our five senses – and how awesome they are. Train your focus on tiny things that you would normally ignore. Intentionally engage all of your senses.
Really notice what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells. Here a simple exercise.
Exercise: go and mindfully clean your hands.
Go wash your hands and do it as mindfully as you can. Don’t let any thoughts interrupt your small hand-washing experience. Listen to your steps while walking to the bathroom and feel your body moving. Enjoy the sensation of fresh water on your skin, the nice smell of the soap, and the softness of the towel afterward. Treat everything as an experience and don’t think about anything else.
You’ll probably have the impression that it took you longer than usual to do this. But, it actually took the same amount of time. You just did your regular activity – while staying more mindful. I believe that mindfulness acually gives us the impression that times goes slower, which is priceless.
The next step of mindfulness will be to have a glimpse of a thought about the fact that you actually have access to clean water. Awareness of this will make you feel grateful and happier about your life. Having water is not taken for granted in many parts of the world. You don’t have to dig into these thoughts. Just a short glimpse of gratitude can make you a happy, mindful person.
Calls, text messages, WhatsApp, Skype, Tinder, email, Pinterest, Facebook notifications – they all scream at you, demanding your immediate attention. Don’t let them control you. To be mindful, you simply have to stop being a slave of your phone.
I always keep my sounds turned off, only using vibration mode. It sometimes pisses off my friends, because I rarely pick up my phone. But I check it often enough to make appointments or to react if someone needs my help. I choose when I want to be connected.
Behave like an observer
Your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
The more you’re familiar with the state of absolute presence, the more you can switch it on whenever you want. Observe your internal and external world as if you are somewhat separated from it. Your thoughts and the things that happen to you are not you – don’t let them influence you too much.
Look at your feelings, thoughts, and changing life situations like they are clouds passing in the sky. They are far away, separated from you, and not able to influence your true being. Behaving like a distant observer will make you a more mindful, peaceful, and happy person.
It has been shown time and again to be the key to better living. You must separate yourself from the world around you, your body, and your current life situation. These things provoke your thoughts and feelings.
This may seem obvious to naturally mindful people, but for most of us it’s a skill which can be developed. When you learn to intentionally stay apart from the world around you—behaving like an observer rather than a participant—you will suddenly feel more connected to this world than ever before. This is a very happy feeling.
Photo: Marzena Bielecka, taken in China Town, Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia 2014, Olympus digital.