Mindfulness: The Art of Conscious Living
When was the last time you lived in the moment - Embraced the eternal present with open attention and without judgement, Instead of letting your life pass you by? the practice of Mindfulness focuses on living in the now and awakening to experience. Mindfulness finds its roots in Ancient Buddhist traditions and has been developed for over 2500 years as a powerful tool for personal growth.
Typically in Buddhist traditions the focus is on living in harmony with oneself and the world. Buddha is a Sanskrit word meaning “awakened one.” This means that they have moved beyond our severely limited and limiting ordinary state of consciousness to an awakened sense of self. Mindfulness teaches us that our awakening can happen in a moment! In this state, we live lives of greater satisfaction and purpose. Mindfulness facilitates our self awakening as it draws our attention to the here and now... a moment which is filled with the richness of possibility so that we may live more consciously and in joy.
The practice of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has gained a lot of momentum in recent years mostly due to it’s significant practical application for mind, body, emotions and spirit. It is also a simple but powerful route to getting unstuck, putting us back into the drivers seat of our lives and allowing us to move beyond the limiting perspective of how we have seen ourselves and the world. This is achieved through observation, self-inquiry, and mindful action.
When we start a new practice, we must initially recognise that there are forces which seek to work against us. Our habitual unawareness seeks to reassert its dominance in our lives because remember- we have been living automatically and unconsciously in this way for many years. These are the moments that we often encounter deep seated emotional wounds and fears that lie unacknowledged within us. Yet, if we capture the sacredness of this opportunity for growth, we come to understand at a much deeper level, we appreciate our feelings and we are more empowered by them. Our wounds are no longer our Achille’s heel but the source of our greatest strength. Perhaps more importantly, the quality of our relationship with ourselves takes on a renewed meaning. We remember what it is like to fall in love with self again.
The joy of Mindfulness
Recently, I introduced a mindful exercise to a client who afterwards summed up the practice as “Fun”. Mindfulness is the art of conscious living but it’s practice is one of fun, creativity and immense beauty. Mindful exercises are simple enough for anyone to use and do not seek to impose doctrine or a regimented way of doing things. The “fun” is that the individual is free to be as creative as he wishes with his practice. There is no right or wrong way in being mindful because one is not trying to do anything, the task is simply to be. Being in a moment seems so straightforward that sometimes our human mind cannot fully embrace it’s exquisite simplicity. Rather than seeking to get theoretical about the practice, the deeper understanding comes from the application of mindfulness. It really is in the doing!
Putting the Heart into Living in 60 seconds
The influence of religious doctrine has for so long sought to remove the very heart of our relationship with the Creator Self. It has actively encouraged supplication and diminished the very core concept of Who We Really Are. Religion tells us that we are to meet the Creator by appointment, its focus is not on the individual nor on the eternal, unbiased bond we all share with divinity. It seeks to divide us as a global human family in addition to severing the divine connection that is our birthright and nature. More and more, the paradigm is shifting to a global focus made up surely of the participation of, and engagement of, our brother and sisters; individuals seeking a new way to live more consciously, happier, more fully engaged and who are remembering and falling in love with Self all over again. Mindfulness is considered the heart of Buddhist meditation, its application strengthens the effectiveness of our relationship with ourselves and others. Its practice encourages a deepening and expanding of our lives enabling an individual to reach greater self-awareness. Practically speaking, it does not require one to take time out of one’s life to journey to a Buddhist sanctuary. It merely asks for 60 seconds every day! Mindfulness is a practice of mastery available freely to the masses and its beauty and potency lies within its free availability and simplicity.
Techniques of Mindfulness
Techniques are an essential part of learning how to practice mindfulness. They require discipline, and engagement but remember it can also be a lot of fun. The following are some simple yet effective tips to get you ready to embrace the eternal now:
Following The Breath
This is an easy mindful exercise, which you can do anytime throughout the day. Begin by checking your clock and note the time. For just 60 seconds your task is to focus all your attention on your breathing. It’s just for one minute, but even that can seem like an eternity. Leave your eyes open and breathe normally. Catch your mind from wandering by returning your attention to your breath whenever you get distracted. This mindful exercise is far more powerful than most people give it credit for. It can take some people many years of practice before they are able to complete a single minute of alert or clear attention. The beauty of mindful exercises is that you cannot fail, you need only experience. Focusing on the breath to use throughout your day restores your mind to the sacred now and ultimately to peace and clarity. Over time, you will find that this exercise becomes the heart of your mindful practice.
Developing a Mindful practice
In the previous exercise, we used the breath to draw the attention inward, to slow the mind and to begin to feel using the body. While I advocate this technique as a core technique there are many ways in which we can reacquaint ourselves with the moment:
- Initially set your intention to remain focused on your breath, embrace the calm and seek to be completely present.
- Feel your feelings, without judgement! Ask yourself, ‘What am I feeling in this moment? If there is fear or anger, what is tied-up in that fear or anger?’
- Observe your thoughts but do not get caught up in their story! Should you stray, focus back on your breath.
- Observe your true wants and needs. Ask yourself, ‘What do I really want here? What do I truly need? Am I treating myself and the other with dignity?’
Living a Mindful Life
Always take time to breathe deep and to appreciate the air as it fills your lungs providing essential oxygen, become aware of the seat as it supports your body, the cushion providing an added layer of comfort, feel the warmth of your clothes as they lay upon your skin, enjoy the experience of sharing a meal with loved ones, notice the various flavours and appreciate the taste. The more intimate you become with everything in a moment, the more you will begin to live a life of mindfulness. The goal therefore is to develop a mindful practice right now! And every-time you decide to sit down and be mindful, let the moment be your goal because there is nothing else. The art of conscious living is about falling in love with where you are right now- the bonus is having additional moments and expanding upon these to fill your day with more of the same.
Another facet of mindfulness is Emotional Intelligence. Freedman et al. define emotional intelligence as
"a way of recognizing, understanding, and choosing how we think, feel, and act. It shapes our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. It defines how and what we learn; it allows us to set priorities; it determines the majority of our daily actions. Research suggests it is responsible for as much as 80% of the "success" in our lives."
Dr. Daniel Goleman, the best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence suggests that Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence are two sides of the same coin offering us the "capacity for recognizing [our] own feelings and those of others, for motivating [ourselves], and for managing emotions well within [ourselves] and in relationships." The practice of Mindfulness is a catalyst to getting in touch with our emotions perhaps for the first time. It can assist us in eliminating emotional barriers, deepen our communication with loved ones, and all round improve the quality of our lives in almost all areas.
Mindfulness is a universal practice and a tool of mastery which seeks to draw you away from self-sabotaging reality into a more attentive, peaceful, practical way of living and being. It is a journey whereby everything we need exists in a moment. It is only by consciously coming into that moment that we realise our ability to tackle anything life throws at us.
Could it be that our untapped potential holds the key to everything? Embracing such a practice can change your life and the lives of those you love simply through your example of being present. Everything you need, everything you have ever wanted lies within you. Remember: you are your own Best Friend... your day to shine has to come eventually, why not right now! “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”
- Freedman, Joshua; Jensen Ph.D., Anabel, et al. Handle With Care: The Emotional Intelligence Activity Book. San Mateo: Six Seconds. (1999).
- Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York: Bantam. (1995).
- Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are. London: Piatkus. (2004).