On May 24, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Voorhees NJ Rotary Club meeting. I discussed the results of two studies reporting the decline in human attention, and the causes and impact of this decline on our cognitive functioning (Wilmer, Sherman & Chein, 2017; reasoning, seeing patterns, abstract thinking, fluid intelligence, focus and awareness). However, I also emphasized the benefits of cultivating daily mindfulness practices to combat the decline in our awareness, and iterated mindfulness development is more than sitting on your mat.
I want to share with you two techniques that you can use to help cultivate mindfulness, without sitting on a mat to meditate. Many people have a very hard time getting started with mat meditation. I get it. When I first started my meditation practice in 2004, it took me about a month to really get the hang of controlling my thoughts, feelings, and automatic responses. What was most informative for me as I practiced and got familiar with my own mind and mental wiring was using every day life experiences and activities to reinforce my met practice. I soon learned that even using just every day activities is a huge benefit. The more I understood meditation, the more I realized that mediation is more than the mat. Mediation is life. So, I wanted to share what I discovered, and what I relayed in my talk at the Rotary Club.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Meditation can be defined as maintaining full focus and full awareness in the present moment. When we talk about focus, we mean maintaining your attention on an object, experience, activity or what is going on around you and within you psychically at the moment. Awareness is being completely conscious of you are focused on and how it is capturing your attention. The activity of meditation in itself is about purposely maintaining focus and awareness. So, the goal is not about where you meditate, but how and why you do it, and what you choose to meditate on.
Every activity you do can cultivate mindfulness. Eating, walking, working, breathing, or interacting with others. Again, its all about what you choose to focus on. For example, when I am taking a shower, I hold my focus on the water against my skin, the soap on my body, or the loofah's sensation as I exfoliate. I become aware of sensations, smells, and thoughts. I may bring my awareness to my breath and note any changes as I carry out the activity of showing. I may focus my attention on how I feel. Am I content, sad, agitated? Observing these feelings gives clues on what the quality of my thoughts are and allows me to investigate and observe connections to why I am sensing and feeling or thinking.
BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS
Sometimes, if I allow myself to just think on the activity I am doing in the moment, I get ah-ha moments. For example, one day in April 2018, while I was spring cleaning. At the moment, dusting had my complete attention and focus. All of a sudden, I had a thought on a new program I wanted to offer. I began to envision Reid Ready's Coach Training Program. I stopped dusting and switched my attention and focus towards writing out an outline of what my company's program would look like. I wrote down a summary of the tools I had in place and realized that I have sufficient credentials to move forward. Because I was in the middle of spring cleaning, I purposely choose to allow myself 30-minutes to write down thoughts and concepts so I did not forget what I wanted to do. I put a reminder in my calendar to go back to this thought and my notes and setup a SMART-R(tm) goal to continue to work on and develop my ideas. After my 30-minutes, which was sufficient to write notes and setup my goal, then went back to spring cleaning and I was fully able to let go of my thoughts about the new program. My mind was able to continue on task of dusting without any observed feelings or the need to ruminate on my ah-ha moment.
And, that is one of the many benefits of meditating, it allows you to control your thoughts and how your mind switches between mental tasks. What are other benefits (Davin, 2017):
Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
Minimize how long stress, anxiety or depression lasts if and when triggered
Strengthens mindfulness and cognitive functioning
Improves sleep and reduces insomnia
Develops your compassion for self and others
TECHNIQUES TO CULTIVATE MINDFULNESS:
The below two techniques, Mindful Activities and Mindful Breathing, can help you cultivate mindfulness if you practice them consistently. You can do either item or both. Key things to understand as your practice these techniques:
You will have thoughts and your mind will wander. Your brain is a thinking machine and its purpose is to process information your senses and physical being provide. The brain stores, categorizes, codes, simplifies, and anticipates information. It uses sensory data to help do its job. Although there are many theories on the role of the mind, some experts believe your mind helps interpret what the brain comes up with and gives the information meaning. This meaning develops into your reality and how you perceive experiences and objects. That's why the color red to you is perceived different than the color red for me. Or, why I love chocolate ice cream and my husband does not. The relationship between our bodies and mind is wired in a way that gives unique experiences and dictates how we learn, or respond to moments and situations. Please know there is so much more to the entire process. I have taught social cognition as an entire 12-16 week course, for Template University and New England College. So, I understand the brain and mind are little more complex than my oversimplified description. The goal here is to give you a general understanding of how the mind works in conjunction with the brain and senses.
You are will come against your attachments: Attachments, in the Buddhist tradition, refers to cravings and desires that we won't let go. They make us selfish or negatively self-centered. What this all means is we want what we want and this desire clouds our perceptions, choices and behaviors. We allow our attachments to past experiences or feelings to disrupt our present moment. In other words, your attachments are not "real" but more your perception of what you think is real. For example, desire is not tangible, its just a feeling. So, you desire to get rich, and associate the feeling of being rich with the feeling of happiness. If getting rich does not happen, or does not happen as you desire, you become disappointed because you think it means you are not happy or won't be happy. This disappointment then clouds your choices and behaviors in other experiences or moments or how you perceive happiness. Again, oversimplified description, but the point is important.
Use any activity to be your focus: eating, walking, talking, working, bathing, washing clothes. It does not matter what the activity is, including sex (I have an entire class devoted to having mindful sex).
Full focus and pay attention to what you are doing, only what you are doing, without thoughts or perceptions about what you are doing (e.g., like or dislike; happiness or sadness).
Observe key aspects of the activity in the moment. Bring your attention to colors, sounds, taste, touch, sights about the activity. For example, if you are eating, bring your attention to the fork or spoon. Follow the utensil and let your awareness fall on what you are doing, and switch between each activity, such as bringing your food to your lips, tasting food, the colors of the food, texture, and activity of chewing. If your mind wanders and other thoughts, sensations or emotions come up--specifically if they do not relate to the activity, acknowledge them. For example, "thinking about going shopping is occurring" "I don't like peanut butter" "discomfort is felt in the hand" "tickling is felt in the big toe." Identify and notice when the sensation comes and passes, but don't focus on the thought or sensation itself.
Bring your attention back to the activity after your observation and acknowledgement of any sensations or thoughts. Don't ruminate on the feeling or become attached to what you were observing. Remember, the sensations and the moment is temporary and that is the way it should be. Accept that the activity, sensations, thoughts will not last and you do not have to chase it. If you find that you want to chase a thought or feeling - give yourself permission to see where it leads for a few minutes. Identify what triggered the thought or feeling. Recognize that any memories or feelings are not real and not part of the activity you are engaged with. Note that the only thing "real" is what is occurring in the moment--the activity you are doing.
If you are feeling agitated, or if you want to clear your mind of a thought, feeling, or to transition into your next activity, stop and bring your awareness and focus on your breathing. Just notice that you are breathing and observe the process of inhaling and exhaling.
As you breath through your nose (or mouth), think "inhaling" when you breath in, and "exhaling" when you breath out. You can also use a counting approach, such as thinking 1 for breathing in and 2 for breathing out.
Bring your attention to what the breath feels like when you inhale. Focus on that for a few minutes, or as long as you can focus. Then, switch your attention to the breath as you exhale for a few minutes or as long as you can focus.
Observe the sensation of breathing. Move your attention to sensations of pressure in the nostrils, down your windpipe and in the expansion of your lungs or stomach.
If you mind wanders, or you note any sensations or thoughts that may not be related to the moment, give it a name "sadness" "energy" "fatigue" "happiness" "cold" or "burning." Then, bring your mind back to the breath--focusing your awareness solely on inhaling and exhaling.
Note, there are several breathing techniques that you can learn and use, such as alternate nostril breathing. The above technique is a general breathing exercise.
The more you put these techniques into practice, the more you can cultivate mindfulness. Be persistent. Keep bringing your awareness and focus back to the activity or the moment. Don't beat yourself up if you find your mind wanders a lot, especially in the beginning. That is the influence of the brain on the mind and vice versa. Just acknowledge the wandering and bring your focus and awareness back to the activity. The more you do this, the longer you will find you can focus and pay attention, as well as recognize when you are not.
If you would like to learn more about how to develop your mindfulness, or other Reid Ready Life Coaching services, please Contact us.