By Hilary Illick
Mindfulness is simple. To be mindful is to focus one’s awareness on the present moment. Simple, yes, but not necessarily easy.
The state of mindfulness includes calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, one’s bodily sensations, and the state of what is going on in one’s midst.
Turn Off & Tune In
We all have the capacity to put down whatever technology is pulling us away from the here and now, to stop whatever task we are engaged in and focus on what we are feeling – emotionally and physically – and notice our environment. Doing this may even stop whatever thought train is roaring through our head for at least a moment or two. But to add calm acceptance – that’s often where the trouble starts. What if we don’t like how we are feeling? What if there is a part of our body that is uncomfortable? And what if our surroundings do not meet our expectations?
And what if, while trying to focus on the here and now, we get distracted by the inhale and exhale of our breath, the candle we lit on our desk, the smell of the tea brewing in our mug? What if there is something going on out there in our life that is painful and we cannot figure out how to fix it? And our mind keeps coming back to that challenge? Or wandering around to the variety of “to-dos” on our never-ending list?
Wandering Minds Want To Know
First of all, that’s what minds do. They wander. They latch on to challenges and try to fix them. (Minds tend to get particularly fixated on problems they do not have the capacity to fix, which is a bit like a car tire stuck in a ditch, revving in futile circles!) So the first step of mindfulness is to add self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-empathy. The practice of Mindful Empathy allows us to say gently and lovingly, “Hi, Mind, I see you are very busy today. Very distracted. Caught in one of your favorite loops: trying to fix something you can’t. I love you unconditionally, busy Fix-it Mind of mine.”
If you can bring self-kindness to your mindfulness practice, and observe your various distractions with loving curiosity, you are already practicing mindfulness. And very likely already receiving its benefits.
Kindness Wins The Day
This quality of self-kindness, practiced mindfully and with intention, can over time permeate the depths of your relationship with yourself. And if self-kindness becomes a regular “go-to” place in your life, this is a game changer. A life changer.
Consider the difference between, “Ugh, what is wrong with me? I get distracted all the time! I’m supposed to be practicing mindfulness right now!” versus, “I’m noticing how distracted I am in this moment, and curious if I can return my attention to my breathing.” Or, “I wonder if starting by focusing on something physical – like the sensation of my clothing against my skin – might be helpful to bring me back into present time.”
Benefits Of Mindfulness
Mindfulness – like life in general – is a daily practice of trial and error. Today, maybe I can sink right into the state of observing my breath and find a spaciousness in my mind. Or maybe today I just can’t get there. Maybe for a second I can touch into the physical sensation of my clothing against my skin. But then my mind races off with its various distractions. Then I remember to notice the candle on my desk and observe it for a moment in order to come back into the here and now, before flying off again in another direction.
If I greet the experiment with self-kindness, with curiosity – both of which are symptoms of the broader state called Mindful Empathy – I am going to receive the benefits of the practice. I’m going to train myself to be curious about who I am, how I am, what I feel. I will train myself to keep coming back to the present, with acceptance and loving-kindness.
I am going to be changing my life – by healing myself.
Please enjoy this Mindfulness meditation by Hoffman Process teacher Hilary Illick: