Wikipedia, in their dry but admittedly learned way, defines mindfulness as the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.
And there you have it, in those last three Wikipedia generated words. “In the present moment”. That, to me, is what mindfulness is all about.
Here’s a question. What are you thinking about right now? Maybe something you have planned next, tomorrow, next week? Something someone said to you yesterday? A new item for the shopping list, or the lyrics of a song that is playing on the radio? Mindfulness says what you should actually be focusing in is the “right here, right now”. The words on the screen, their texture, their meaning, their flow and their effect on you . . . in other words, being in the present moment.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center for patients suffering from pain. He came up with an incredibly simple but effective exercise, which anyone can try to experience mindfulness. If you have five minutes right now, all you need is a raisin and a quiet space to sit.
The idea is that you place a raisin in your hand. The thing most of us would do next is to pop into our mouths and move onto the next thing. But no, not this time. Your job is to observe it. Just look and see the texture, the bumps, the colour, and the glossiness. Bring it to your nose and smell it. How does it feel in your hand? Now place it into your mouth and swirl it around. Can you feel the texture with your tongue? Chew just once, and observe the very first taste. Take your time and eventually chew some more before swallowing. Keep sitting and think about how your body feels with the raisin now ingested.
Well done. You have now experienced mindfulness. And now imagine what your life would be like if you employed this behaviour more often? At work when listening to a colleague, try experiencing observing their face, their lips, and their body movements. At home, sitting on the couch without turning the television or radio on. Just observe for five minutes. Listen to the sound of the world around you, the feel of the couch, the smells in the air and the cadence of your own breath.
My personal favourite is my mindfulness walk. The idea is that you are totally silent (and so if you have a walking partner you both need to abide by the rules!). Instead of taking steps to get somewhere, feel each step as you place your feet on the ground (bare feet is great if the weather and terrain permit). Look at the environment you pass. Each branch, each tree leaf, the clouds, grass or asphalt . . . Feel your breathing and empty your thoughts of everything expect where you are and what you are doing right now.
Mindfulness has had a major effect on my life. I feel more grounded, calmer and more aware of the world around me. I increasingly have a sense of accomplishing more meaningful and worthwhile things in my life. My sense of mindfulness doesn’t slow me down (which if I am honest is what I feared); instead it creates focus and direction.
So wherever you are or whatever your situation in life, I am wondering if you can commit to an act of mindfulness. Each day for a week. And then observe how you feel.
I am betting you will never look at a raisin the same way again . . .