Love this post… Thank you Laura!
By Laura A. Garren
To be mindful is to be aware or attentive; synonyms include “being alive to.” Mindfulness can produce a sense of serenity, even happiness. Being mindful anchors you in the present moment, which is known; as opposed to regretting the past or thinking about the future, which is unknown and therefore full of possibilities. The object of mindfulness, as I understand it, is to be aware of what you’re doing right now, because that’s all you have. (You could wake up dead tomorrow!) If you are engaging in an activity but thinking about what you’re going to do later, you can’t be fully aware of what you’re doing now. You aren’t in either the present or the future. You could say you’re nowhere.
Why is mindfulness so important? First of all, if you do a task mindfully, you will increase your enjoyment of the activity. For example, if you mindfully take a walk, you will notice each step you take and how your body feels as you exert; you will appreciate the scenery and the sounds of birds. Think of how many times you’ve powered through, thinking of what you had to do for work the next day; when it’s over, you barely recall it. Meanwhile, you still have that work to do. Thinking about it didn’t get it done, and it robbed you of the pleasure of the walk.
You probably know that if you are mindful at something, you will do it better, possibly because you have engaged in something you enjoyed so much you weren’t thinking of anything else. It might have been a project at work, exercise, fishing, drawing, or dancing. Remember how that felt, and imagine feeling that way about everything you do, from washing the dishes to driving your car. Or, while doing one of these things, you can obsess about stuff you can’t control because it’s in the past or future. If you are mindful, you do have control because you are choosing to quiet your mind and concentrate on what you’re doing in that moment.
Most people find it difficult to achieve mindfulness; why? One reason might be that our distant ancestors had to be constantly alert to danger, their minds darting to past encounters with and the future threat of predators. The mind had to leap from one possibility to the next: what was that sound? A saber-tooth tiger (past event)? Or was it potential prey (future event)?
What has prehistory do to with mindfulness? It explains why our minds race constantly if left unattended; most people do because it’s easy. The mind is in control, which is scary. Scientists argue over the amount of brain we humans actually use for conscious cognition, but it is clear that much of it is operating beyond (or beneath) our control. The proof is in our dreams, which release our subconscious occurrences in bizarre and baffling ways. (Why can’t the subconscious tell us what it wants us to know, rather than making us decipher a convoluted landscape full of symbols that represent our deepest fears and desires? Is it messing with us?)
Another significant barrier to mindfulness is our society, which is controlled by advertising; always urging us to buy the next thing we can’t live without once we know it exists. No wonder we can’t be happy in the present; we don’t have that new expensive car! Or the latest handheld device, even though we just bought one last year. This phenomenon carries over into individual behavior, as well. Take for instance the cell phone, the most insidious threat to mindfulness. Every time it goes off, whatever you were doing in that moment is interrupted; your conversation with a friend, your concentration while driving, your English class. But Goddess forbid we just let them ring; we might miss out on something better than what we’re doing right now!
What is my point? If you are currently satisfied, calm, and happy, don’t worry about it. But if you have a vague sense of dissatisfaction, or feel stressed and out of control, try being mindful. I guarantee that, while it won’t solve all your problems, it will help you feel better, which in turn will help you handle your problems. I know, because I just lived through a stressful experience: my husband had a devastating stroke four years ago that left him without speech or the movement of his right arm. He is disabled, and I am his caretaker. The years after the stroke were the most stressful of my life, especially coming to terms with his condition and the fact that it is permanent. I realized somewhere along the way that the only thing I could control about the situation was my attitude toward it. I could resent it and feel bitter, or I could embrace my role and find fulfillment in taking care of my wounded husband.
I chose the latter, but I won’t say it was easy. I have to remain in the moment; mindful of the things I’m doing to make a new normal for my husband and myself. I can resent doing everything myself—the cooking, shopping, cleaning, paying bills—or I can take joy in it all because it gives my life meaning. I’m doing it not just for myself, but also for Chuck. I still have to force my mind to be quiet sometimes, when it wants to start acting like a cat in a roomful of mice. But when I remain mindful, I find serenity and contentment, which feel much better than anxiety and fear. My mind is the only thing I have control over, and I am going to use it to my benefit. It’s just a case of mindfulness over matter.