By Elliott Slinn, Douglas College
You hear the word “mindfulness” tossed around a lot these days, but what does it really mean? Does it mean wearing beads around your neck, growing a beard or wearing linen pants? Does it mean burning incense and chanting? Mindfulness is a trendy new buzzword, but the idea is ancient.
For me, mindfulness means the conscientious act of slowing down and taking myself off autopilot. It’s too easy in our modern world to hurry everything. We want our food fast, our love hurried and our life on super-speed. We receive instant messages, while we make instant noodles to get our instant gratification.
In my opinion, mindfulness is the act of stepping back, taking a deep breath and thinking, “OK, why am I doing _______?” (you get to fill in the blank on this one).
As we get wise to our automated actions and the marionette strings life pulls us with, we can redirect our actions and make better choices, as we develop the ability to press pause on a world that wants us to press fast-forward. Mindfulness is the brief moment before you speak a hurtful word. It’s the second before you decide to have your fifth candy bar. It’s when your blood is boiling with rage, but you’re able to breathe and reflect on why exactly you’re angry and then calm down.
When we are able to slow down and get quiet, we’re better able to tune into that whispered voice that lives inside us. And sometimes that voice is a bit scary to hear. It second-guesses some of the self-satisfying vices and tendencies we may have formed. Now, I’m not saying stop what you’re doing. I’m only suggesting that getting mindful of what you’re doing can be a benefit.
At the suggestion of one of my closest and oldest friends, I began meditating. I never thought I would be into it. But I started small. I’d wake up in the morning and meditate for 60 seconds. Sometimes, if I was too tired (or too lazy), I’d meditate on the SkyTrain. Actually, I would meditate anywhere I could close my eyes for a minute or two.
One of the things that initially stopped me from even trying was the notion that I wasn’t supposed to think. “But how can we not think?” I’d ask my buddy. What he said really stuck with me.
He said, “It’s OK to have thoughts, but don’t get stuck in them, or on them. Notice them, like you’d notice a street sign as you’re driving by, but then get your eyes back on the road.”
WOW! That really changed my fear of not thinking into more of a liberation. And again, this takes practice. There are times where I do get stuck, but when it happens, I return to my breath. I focus again on the in and out motion of the air flowing into my nose and out through my mouth.
So, I offer you the same. Go ahead, try it now. Close your eyes, and take a breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Make it slow and intentional. To take it one step further, take a second and ask yourself why you’re reading this blog. What is it about the title that grabbed you, what’s beneath your curiosity that brought you here? Once we’re able to engage the why of our actions/thoughts, we’re more equipped at redirecting our actions and our thoughts, which is such a powerful life tool.
If you’re like me, you enjoy a good book. When the story is good, I get sucked in and I can’t wait to turn the page to find out what happens next. But one day, I was reading and the thought occurred to me that it isn’t the book that draws me in, but each page. The book is the finished product of a series of pages, each having been wonderfully written. Our lives are like that. Each thought, each action contributes to the page you write in your life from day to day. It may not look like much in the moment, but when you look back at five, 10, 20 years of pages, you can see with a bit more clarity how it all ties together.
You may be asking, “Well, how does this help with mindfulness?” and I would offer this conclusion:
Mindfulness is getting to a place where you fully realize the impact of each page. The way the line is constructed. The message conveyed in your words. When you tune in to that concept, you’re being mindful, because you begin to see the construction of life through the choices made. Like I said earlier, a lot of the time we’re on autopilot; our actions are automated. But when we can pause and really tune in to ourselves, we’re able to make better choices, which lead to a rich and full life.