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What is mindfulness, and why you should care

By Michal Spiegelman

Mindfulness is an oft-repeated, rarely defined term that’s gaining popularity these days. You’ve heard it, and know that it’s a good thing, but you probably don’t know exactly what it means. It’s actually quite simple.

Mindfulness is paying attention to your current experience without judging it. It’s a way of breaking out of the our habitual behaviors and thought patterns, a way of turning off the autopilot.

Our experience as human beings is incredibly rich and constantly changing. We have the five senses plus the mental faculty of thoughts and feelings all happening together, but we’re unaware of a lot of this much of the time.

Ever get in the car, pull out of the parking lot, and then suddenly “wake up” when you get home with little memory of everything in between? What most likely happened is that you were absorbed in thoughts and fantasies while you were driving – what you’re going to do when you get home, annoying things your boss did that day, what you wish you had said to your friend during lunch, etc – one thought after the next. This is the default mode for most of us.

Now imagine this version of the same drive, but done mindfully. You’re open to the senses. You’re aware of the feeling of your foot on the gas pedal, you notice some dust on the dashboard, you notice that the trees are a little different than last time you looked. When a thought about the past or the future arises, you recognize it as such and return to the present rather than staying in the thought world. You might even notice how anxious or self-judging thoughts manifest as tension in different areas of the body, so you relax these tensions. You get home with a clear head, feeling content and ready for whatever comes next. (Note that thoughts and emotions are not being suppressed or repressed here – they’re acknowledged and recognized for what they are, but are not allowed to dominate over everything else.)

This second mode is sometimes referred to as the “experiential mode” and there is increasing evidence to suggest that it leads to greater happiness and well-being.* Paying attention is simply more enjoyable than being lost in thought, and most of us have had experiences of “being in the zone” that reflect this.

The ideal endpoint is complete mindfulness at all times – no matter what you’re doing, you’re able to effortlessly stay in the present, aware of everything in your experience without being stuck in the past or the future. This is really difficult because you’ve probably been practicing the opposite for most of your life!

So how do we get there? The key is to practice being mindful in an environment that supports it. It’s a lot easier (still not easy!) to be mindful when you have a few minutes to sit alone without external distractions, than when you’re put on the spot at a meeting. This is the point of meditation practice.

Start by taking a few minutes every day, maybe 5 or 10 minutes at first. Set a timer and commit to put aside the past and the present for those few minutes (turn off your cellphone!). Sit comfortably and notice how your body feels. Notice the breath. Whenever you find your mind wandering, recognize it and return to the body and the breath. You might find it helpful to mentally whisper to yourself “thinking” when this happens. Don’t get angry when the mind wanders. The point is not to keep the mind still, but to notice when it wanders.

Having the foundation of a sitting meditation practice makes it easier to extend the same kind of mindfulness to the rest of your life. This will happen naturally, but you can also choose specific routines to perform mindfully, such as brushing your teeth, eating breakfast or lunch, walking up the stairs, picking up the phone. Every moment you spend being mindful will lead to more of these moments in the future, and ultimately a happier and more fulfilling life.

* – When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays – This is your mind on meditation: less wandering, more doing – Mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference

Meet Michal
Michal Spiegelman

Michal Spiegelman is Medical Intuitive who helps women get to the root source behind disease, disharmony, imbalance, stress, and trauma-related conditions.

Having studied in Israel, Germany, England, and the U.S., Michal is a Certified Professional Coach, a Reiki Master, and a former social worker who brings years of experience working with a variety of modalities into her intuitive teachings, coaching and mentoring.

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