Mindfulness, the latest buzzword. Mindful movement. Mindful eating. Mindful living. Mindful this and that. We’ve all heard it and chances are, we’ve all used it. It’s a word that sounds appropriate and something we should all be doing. But what does it truly mean? Mindfulness does not mean a “good idea”. It’s not a religion or a philosophy. It’s not a catechism either. It’s not the act of climbing to a mountaintop and sitting under a tree for 20 years in complete silence. It’s none of that. Mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Now that’s a mouthful, so let me break it down.
Years ago, long before I had ever heard the word mindfulness, I was gently rocking myself on a hammock, hung from a tree in my aunt’s backyard. It was a perfect summer day: warm with a soft breeze. I let the wind sway me gently as I gazed at the leaves dancing their dance, occasionally allowing some of the sun’s rays to shine through. At times my eyes would be forced to squint. I remember being so present in the moment that I could almost smell the sun. Yes, smell the sun. I felt as though my senses were completely alive and I was mesmerized by it all. Unemployed at the time and stranded in what felt like a dead-end, my original plan that day had been to sit on the hammock and reflect, strategize, plan… think. But as I sat there, tuned in to the many sensations my body was going through, I found myself continuously shifting my mind from “thinking” to simply “being”. Once in a while, a thought, would show up and without quite understanding what I was doing, I would gently guide my mind back to the sensations going on in the present moment. I became aware of my being, of my senses, and of my breath, as though I had never noticed what my breath felt like before. I did not realize it at the time, but in this very moment, I was meditating through mindfulness.
It’s no secret that humans are infinitely self-distracting. So much that we cannot be trusted with our own breathing. Our breath is an autonomic response. If we had to control our breathing, we might forget to breathe, because the thoughts that constantly cross our minds would distract us from this vital task. We are always thinking, yet we do not realize we are doing it and, more often than not, our thinking has nothing to do with our reality. We speculate, assume, dream and fear, but through mindfulness, we start to pay attention to the very fact that we are thinking, breathing, eating, etc. It’s not so much about paying attention to the actual thoughts, what they are and what you should do about them, but about paying attention to the fact that you are having a thought. In this moment, you become aware, and that awareness, is essentially what mindfulness is all about. It’s accepting “something” without judging.
Let me illustrate my idea further with this example based on today’s reality :
Situation: Our society is experiencing a major pandemic.
Thought: Our society is experiencing a major pandemic. I do not know what will happen, but I must figure it out. I am scared, and I do not want to feel this way, so I will worry and distract myself until I no longer feel scared.
Mindfulness: Our society is experiencing a major pandemic. I do not know what will happen, but I accept that it is out of my control. I am scared, and it is ok for me to feel this way. Therefore, I will not judge how I feel. Feeling scared for me means that my breathing is more shallow than normal, I feel tightness in my chest and pain in my stomach.
Mindfulness is observing a feeling, a thought, or a sensation that is present. It’s also accepting it without judgement. It is a way of being in relationship with our experiences, however big or small, grandiose or mundane. Through mindfulness, we grow, which is what life is all about. And through growth, comes healing because we start coming to terms with things as they are, rather than being in denial or trying to fix them.
I would like to end by saying that just like a muscle must be trained, so must the mind. Mindfulness is a discipline – something we must continuously work on. So in these moments of uncertainty and fear, I would encourage you to acknowledge the thoughts you are having. No need to give them much attention, but accept their presence and pay attention to the physical sensations they bring.
Marketing and communications consultant (+ mindfulness coach for consultants at LANDRY et associés)
To learn more about Catherine, check out her employee profile!