3 Steps Toward Mindfulness
Mindfulness Versus Mindlessness
Have you ever been driving along a familiar route, say between work/school and home, only to find that upon arrival you don't really remember the drive? You went on autopilot from the moment you set out. You knew the road well, you were paying attention to all of the hazards but your mind wandered. You simply didn't need to think and concentrate on what you were doing.
Mindfulness is all about taking the time to experience the present. We live in a world where, if we don't lose focus because of routine, it's entirely too easy to lose focus due to distraction.
Below are three easy steps you can take to center yourself and achieve a state of calm even if you have a stressful life.
Step 1: Look Up
I don't mean this in any profound way. I'm not talking about positive thinking. I mean you should literally lift your head and look higher than you normally would. Many people, as they walk down the street, look no higher than the faces of people roughly their height as they approach talking distance (3 - 4 feet).
Who can blame us? If you grew up in a city you might have been discouraged from looking up to admire the skyscrapers for fear of "looking like a tourist." Tourists are often looking upward at the marvels mankind has built because they are aware of their surroundings and can appreciate with awe the greatness they see. All the while, the rest of us look at our feet, talk on our phones and generally get annoyed with the out of towners looking up.
You don't need to block the sidewalk and stare and the big buildings to look up. Just move your gaze slightly higher. Notice the sky, the clouds, the things that you otherwise would never have noticed without that slight adjustment of the eyes.
Step 2: Feel Your Feet
A common eastern meditation practice is known as "walking meditation." Unfortunately, many people misinterpret what this means. Often, people hear the phrase and assume it means zoning out while walking.
Rather, it means that you should focus while walking. Focus on the feeling of your feet as they hit the ground. Focus on the feeling as your foot moves forward and lifts again. Each delicate movement is a marvel of engineering in the human body yet, it's something we take for granted because we do it all day.
Notice the feeling. Then, as your other foot strikes the ground, focus on that foot. Don't dwell on what you just felt. Keep your attention on what you are feeling in the moment. Maintain that upward gaze.
Step 3: The Sounds of Silence
If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where you can walk and experience quiet, count yourself lucky! Also, try to avoid humming or singing or talking to yourself as you move. There's nothing wrong with these things as they can help soothe us when we're feeling stressed. However, right now, we're focusing on our present. We don't want to escape our reality; we want to embrace it.
If you can't escape the city noise and can safely use headphones as you walk, consider listening to either white noise or something highly repetitive like shamanic drumming. These sounds will help to block out the city noise and allow your mind to focus on sight and feeling.
Personally, I recommend against using some of the standard "soothing sounds" such as ocean waves, rain, or babbling creek. While these are, indeed, soothing sounds they also evoke mental imagery that takes us away from the present. We begin imagining the ocean as we hear it. We may start to recall trips we had to the ocean or the creek we played in as kids or what this very street looked like once during a downpour. There's nothing wrong with those things, of course. However, our focus in this exercise is to focus on the present.
Building a meditative practice
These three steps are an easy start guide to mindfulness. They aren't, however, the only path toward it. The hope is that you can take simple steps like this to see how mindfulness practice can enhance your life and bring you a greater level of peace and satisfaction. Personally, I engage in a walking meditation at least once a day. I find that seemingly insurmountable challenges I faced before the walk now seem easily approachable after the walk.
These steps may get you started. However, you'll find that to enjoy the lasting effects you'll need to develop a full meditative practice. That means small exercises that you'll practice throughout the day. Some of them may be formal and others highly informal. Some of them you need to shut yourself away for quiet time. Others you can practice while on the elevator at work or while sitting on a bus.
Whatever you do to build your meditative practice just ensure that the practice is yours and catered to your needs. Live the present on your terms.