Mindfulness is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” We see the word everywhere these days—in books, advertising, and other media. One of my favorite athletic clothing brands recently launched a mindfulness line “for the days you want to be mindful.”
Most people agree that being mindful is a good thing, but many of us aren’t sure how to be mindful, what being mindful really means, and why it’s so important.
Not too long ago, our society viewed multitasking as a skill to be admired. Women were proud of their ability to drive a car and simultaneously apply makeup, eat breakfast, referee a back seat fight, rehearse a work presentation, and compose a mental grocery list for dinner. Now we have smartphones with texts, emails, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and other sources constantly beckoning our attention.
Distraction and over stimulation do not help our brains function. We’ve learned that multitasking doesn’t work—people actually get less done (with less quality) even though they think they’re doing more. Multitasking has even been compared to cocaine; both activate the reward pathway by increasing dopamine. This constant bombardment of distractions—a neural addiction—increases our underlying stress and corrodes our minds and health.
Being in a constant state of distraction is a safety risk as real as texting while driving: it can steal our lives. We scan through Facebook posts or Snapchat pictures instead of talking with family and friends at a restaurant. We immediately interrupt our regular activities to reply to daily emails. By not being present, we miss the simplicity of each moment. When we’re engaged and present, we don’t have to wonder where our time has gone. We lived it and can remember it, or maybe even feel it. Focusing on the past or the future, or indulging in other distractions, means we relinquish the beauty of simplicity.
So, how do we become more mindful? We all practice mindfulness when we’re fully engaged with someone—not checking our cell phones or making mental to-do lists while partially listening and investing. For some people, mindfulness is in prayer. For me, it’s in nature with my family and dog, playing with my goats, or doing yoga. These are times when my mind is focused on each present moment and I feel peaceful, whole, and aware.
Mindfulness is a skill to be practiced several times throughout your day as you train your mind to stay focused and be present. One of my favorite quotes about mindfulness is from Geneen Roth, author of Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything.
“It’s like washing the dishes. If you focus on getting the dishes done so that your kitchen will be clean, you miss everything that happens between dirty and clean. The warmth of the water, the pop of the bubbles, the movements of your hand. You miss the life that happens in the middle zone between now and what you think your life should be like. And when you miss those moments because you would rather be doing something else, you are missing your own life. Those moments are gone, you will never get them back.”
As a lifelong student of health and nutrition, I know how important it is to cultivate mindfulness when we’re trying to change our relationships with food. Eating lunch at your computer, for example, while scrolling through social media images can increase anxiety and lower self-esteem, which can then lead to emotional eating.
I am so excited to have Dr. Kristen Race lead our wellness series this next Sunday. I am a huge fan of her work. Not only is she incredibly knowledgeable, Dr. Race is also engaging and funny. I took her Mindfulness in the Workplace series and it changed the way I organize my day, significantly reducing my stress. I hope you’ll join us.
In light and love,Sandy