How to Actually Practice Mindfulness

Rebecca–Other People

Concrete Steps to Cultivate Being Mindful

I Can’t Be Non-Judgmental!
Jane, one of Rebecca’s clients, was in tears the other day because she has been trying to practice mindfulness but, as she put it, “it’s impossible for me to be non-judgmental and accepting when I’m trying to meditate.  I can’t seem to stop my mind from second guessing whether I’m doing it right, and I get distracted by all of the things that are bothering me.”

Mindfulness Versus Meditation
This gave us a chance to really unpack what it means to be mindful.  First, we separated mindfulness from meditation. Mindfulness, at its simplest, is being aware of and attuned to what is happening in and around us.  Although practicing mindfulness can be used as a form of meditation, meditation itself is a broader category.  As with mindfulness, meditation also involves focusing attention, but it can be on any number of things: one’s breathing, a mantra (a word or phrase repeated to help focus), emptying the mind, etc.

Mindful Meditation
Mindful meditation, more specifically, involves noticing whatever presents itself to the mind, whether it be physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, etc.  Although it is presumed, de facto, that one is supposed to practice non-judgmentalism and acceptance during this process, that is a bit misleading.  It might be more accurate to say that we are instructing our mind to note what crosses its path but not dwell on it.  For example, although we may observe things that we find unpleasant (physical discomfort, pain, emotional distress, jarring environmental stimuli such as noises, bright lights, etc,.), we try to adopt a neutral stance of acknowledging those sensations and thoughts rather than trying to change them or trying to fix ourselves or the situation.

Experiencing Self and Observing Self
Another way of framing it is to think of two versions of the self: one which is having the experience and the other that is watching the self having the experience.  The observing self is simply there to notice and take in information.  It does not evaluate whether the information is good or bad, it is simply a witness.

Mindfulness in Practice
Mindfulness can be enacted through mindful meditation but it can also be practiced throughout our day at any moment by pausing to truly notice and take in what is going on around us, what our senses are perceiving, what feelings we are having if any, and what our minds are thinking.

Why Be Mindful?
We end this newsletter by briefly touching on why one would practice mindfulness.  To go back to Jane, she’s doing it because she’s stressed out all of the time and wants to decompress.  Being more mindful for her means that she can become more aware of exactly how her stress is manifesting not just in her body and mind but in her interface with the external world.   Conversely, if she is able to extend that mindfulness beyond what is immediately presenting itself to her and attune herself to other variables in and around her, it may actually help lessen her stress so that it does not completely dominate all of her attention.

Handout on Mindfulness
Finally, we share with you a new handout, Mindful Observing, we’ve put together on Mindfulness that divides it into domains to observe—your body, your mind, your feelings, your environment, and your behaviors–and gives suggestions on ways to focus your attention in those areas.  Please feel free to download it and share it with others.

As we close, we are mindful of our appreciation for you, dear readers, and for the gratitude we experience each month when many of you respond to our newsletters.  Thank you for that.

Mindfully, Rebecca and Gioia

Art Directive
Take a moment to scan through your body from your toes to your head, noticing any sensations.  Then observe if you are having any feelings and, if so, if you experience them in a particular part of your body.  Draw a mandala circle on a piece of paper (using a round cup, plate, or free hand).  Use color, line, and shape to capture any of those sensations in the mandala.

Then “mindfully” notice  your artwork.  What colors did you use—warm, cool, blues, oranges, etc.?  What kinds of lines—curvy, angular, jagged, smooth, thick, thin?  Is it abstract or realistic?  Is it dark or light?  Is it simple or complex? Although you can try to suspend judgment about the quality of the image, you can also note any judgments (it’s ugly, beautiful, amateurish, chaotic) without needing to change them. Be “present” to whatever comes up in the process and keep noticing yourself and how you are responding.