Mindfulness is not something ‘out there’ to be grasped at. Nor is it just knowledge in a book or something we have studied ‘ I’ve done mindfulness- it didn’t work for me’! That’s like saying ‘I’ve tried breathing- it didn’t work for me’!!
To be mindful simply means to be aware, to be conscious and not forgetting- not forgetting where we are, what we are doing when we are doing it. If we are engaged in an activity and conscious of what we are engaged in, we are truly present in that moment. However, if our minds are elsewhere, then it makes sense to conclude that we are not present in that moment and that we are missing out on our lives.
A study done by two Harvard psychologists (Killingsworth & Gilbert) in 2010 used a special “track your happiness” iPhone app to gather research. They basically asked people the same two questions at random times: ‘what are you doing now?’ and ‘where is your mind right now?’
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you to know that about 47% of our waking hours is spent thinking about what isn’t going on. Put this way, it seems crazy that (if we continued to live thus) we would spend close to half of our life thinking about what’s not actually happening!
Furthermore, allowing the mind to wander into the past often results in bringing back negative thoughts, feelings and emotions into the present, causing us to re-live discomfort and pain. Likewise, concerns about the future may cause the body to prepare itself for the worst possible outcome, by triggering the stress response. So, we are innocently cleaning our teeth, washing the dishes, ironing our clothes etc and, before we know it, we have worked ourselves into a frenzy of emotions…. All this from a wandering mind…
“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now’. These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” Killingsworth & Gilbert.
So, learning to stay present and live the fullness of each moment is to learn to live mindfully. Through practice and experience we begin to notice when our mind wanders off and takes us to places we’d rather not go. Becoming aware of this, we now have choice- we can choose to bring our mind back to the body, back to what we are doing and notice how this brings a state of calm and clarity and an appreciation for everything in our lives.