“It is what makes us human, what distinguishes us from other animals. We can be aware of being aware.”
Are you stuck in the past or in the future? Quite often we are focused on what should have happened yesterday, what we should’ve done, what we didn’t do, or what others should’ve done. When we are not focused on the past, maybe our focal point is what may happen, or what we wish could happen in the future. Perhaps we have ‘what if” worry habits that lead us to heightened stress and anxiety. We may feel angry about the past, or maybe feel hopeless about the future. When our tendency is to dwell on things of the past or the future we get stuck, and life becomes more difficult.
Dogs, among other mammals have the capability of living in the present and having a much higher chance of enjoying each day. Their disadvantage is that they are not able to process thoughts like we do. We have an amazing mind, but we can get stuck with memories, judgments, and evaluations that can cause us to experience pain and suffering. What can we do?
We can learn to live in the present by practicing mindfulness. This means we can learn to pay attention to the here and now with curiosity and flexibility. We can be open to the experience and what is going on in that moment without making judgments. Scientific research indicates that when individuals make mindfulness practice a part of their daily routine, they are able to increase their overall wellbeing.
An essential benefit that comes with mindfulness is the ability to increase self-awareness. In turn, this enables us to respond to life events with less rigidity. Below are five amazing benefits of practicing mindfulness:
- Improved relationships. Awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges, will help us notice these events without having to obsess about them. As we learn to observe them instead of getting caught up in them, we become less judgmental and more appreciative of those around us. The evaluative thoughts that usually show up may still be there, but they can become background noise. We learn that those internal experiences don’t need to get in the way of connecting to others and improving our relationships.
- Enhanced focus while studying. Research has shown that individuals who practice mindfulness are able to increase their memory and attention skills. It also has shown to improve GRE reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity. This is because individuals become more aware of becoming distracted and are able to gently bring their attention back to the task at hand in the present moment.
- Increase patience and compassion towards others. The experts in the field report that mindfulness practice boosts individuals’ ability to become aware, not only of their internal experiences, but also of their surroundings. They are able to pay attention to other people’s non-verbal cues, connect, and notice how others may be feeling. Their improved psychological flexibility allows them to see other people’s perspectives and become more aware of others’ needs, pains and suffering, instead of being entangled with their own thoughts and feelings.
- Discover that self-compassion and self-acceptance has been there all along. Individuals are able to notice their thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges from an observer point of view. When they are in the observer mode, they are aware that they are not their thoughts, memories, and evaluations. When thoughts such as “I’m not good enough” show up, they realize their problem-finding machine (the mind) is producing the thought. They know they don’t need to buy into it if it is not helpful and gets in the way of living a value-focused life.
- Become liberated! Mindfulness brings a sense of peace with oneself and though life can bring unpleasant events, individuals discover that they don’t need to run away or be a slave to the chattering mind. Instead they can use mindful breathing as their anchor to help them embrace the moment even when it is undesirable. Mindfulness helps them become unstuck from the past and the future.
Keep in mind that mindfulness requires work. It is about the process –the small steps you take each day that will make the difference. Mindfulness is not a Band-Aid approach that many individuals would like it to be. Sometimes people say, “I did that mindfulness thing yesterday and I feel the same today.” They may be looking at this practice as a quick-fix solution. Mindfulness is a life style. Remember, it is about the journey not the destination.
Are you willing to give it a try?