Does the word “mindful” have an opposite? I can’t think of a precise one, but whatever it would be, that’s certainly how I lived the majority of my life. And spoiler alert – I don’t think there is a less fulfilling way to live. Not being mindful erases all the good things in our lives. (I say “good things” because as humans, we sadly tend to absorb and experience the bad stuff without having to put any effort into it.) But yes, the good things can get pretty much erased.
What good is a conversation if we aren’t really listening to it? Does food really have a taste if we are eating it while we are scrolling through our social media feed? Are truly we soaking in a glorious sunrise if we are spending the entire morning being strangled by anxiety, incessantly worrying about the day ahead? When we are not fully in the present moment, we are closing our eyes to all the potentially extraordinary things around us. And what is left? All the dark, painful, and panic-inducing things that we continuously hoard and focus on.
I really wasn’t surprised to learn that it is estimated that 70% of our day is spent in stress, worry, or simply in survival mode. We have somewhere between 60,000-65,000 thoughts per day…that’s a whopping 2,000 thoughts an hour. But here’s the crazy thing – about 95% of these thoughts are completely recycled from the day before. And the day before that. And are they positive, uplifting thoughts? Most definitely not. About 80% of these thoughts are unapologetically negative and anxiety producing. In fact, we have rehearsed a whole story of troubling thoughts to dwell in for nearly all of our waking hours. We dig up our absolute worst memories of when we felt inferior, embarrassed, unprepared, ugly, insignificant, and all around not good enough in some way. Sometimes though, we break from these strangling thoughts to instead bring our uneasiness to terrifying thoughts about the future and reaffirm our uncertainty over potential problems and scenarios. We are masterminds at self torture.
But here’s the thing. In this actual moment, right here right now – is there anything wrong? Is there anything horrific occurring this precise second? Probably not. Most likely if we are miserable, we are living in regret and sadness over the past, or completely stressing out about the future. If only we could live in the now. We could take so many of the bricks off our shoulders. We might be able to breathe some goodness into our life.
Mindfulness is nothing but the state of being conscious of this present moment….being aware of what is happening around us and inside us while it is actually happening. It seems so simple. So obvious. And on paper, it looks insultingly easy. But is by no means our natural state of being any more. I think we had it pretty much mastered as babies, but along the lines, we certainly forgot the practice. How often are we fully attending to what is going on? When we are driving, are we admiring the majestic trees growing in the earth and the playful, fluffy clouds in the sky? …Or does it all go by in a blur as we harp on the mountain of unease and axiousness we have created for ourselves?
Luckily there is still abundant hope. This lack of mindfulness is nothing but a habit. A behavioral practice that we have emboldened and expanded every hour we have turned away from the here and now. But we can take back it’s power by reminding ourselves to be truly present. To snap ourselves into the moment we are experiencing at this very second. Yes, mindfulness can be LEARNED.
We can begin to create space for us to actually experience the world around us. To inhale the good, to open our eyes to the positive. We can have relief from our torturous thoughts about the past and future. We can just….be. We can actually feel at peace. And isn’t that what we are all looking for, even in this complicated, isolated, technology-laden world? Would we not trade all of our humanly possessions and experiences just to be able to feel truly at peace? We don’t have to trade anything, however – we just have to teach ourselves what we have forgotten over all these years.
As with everything, awareness is the first step. Just noticing when our brains are putting us through the wringer. It’s not a matter of trying to stop our thoughts – we don’t need to quiet our mind. Just pay attention to it. Bring our awareness to the present moment. It will take practice….lots of practice, but it begins to get easier and it starts to become second nature. Our minds will wander, yes, but we can train it to wander right back to the here and now more and more often. Meditation can be a huge help in this process, especially when we make it a daily practice. We can start to unwire our mind’s need to get carried away by destructive and self-demeaning thoughts. And even when progress seems slow, we must remind ourselves that ANY progress is a huge step toward relief. And we WILL improve at this.
The more we do this, the more we get to participate in the world, and once again experience all the beauty around us. We get to see all of what we have completely neglected through the repetition of our mindless habits. We are reminded of the small (and large!) miracles happening around us all the time. We get to break out of our mental prison. We get to actually LIVE.
Like I said, I spent the majority of my life giving this zero consideration. I was entirely caught up in the chaotic waves of life, as so many of us are, without really steering the boat, or paying much notice to where it was even going. But that was then, and I am an entirely new person since that time. I may have realized this all very late, but it’s never TOO late. Our lives are waiting for us. Be inspired. Be here. Right now. Our world can be as beautiful as we choose to make it. Let’s go live it.