The mingling of morning’s melody in the early summer days fills the air as Norman and I sit on the garden porch savoring a leisurely breakfast following our walk in Mother Nature. Eclectic birdsong, the dancing of the aspen leaves in the gentle breeze, and steady silence from the neighborhood as it is Sunday and early morning runs until at least ten o’clock.
In an earlier chapter of my life such moments while deeply savored were infrequent and short-lived. Now, they are oh so frequent and favorite moments of my days, but so many other moments throughout my everydays create the same appreciation because I am holding myself still, a skill I now engage in habitually every single day no matter what I find myself doing.
Holding ourselves still is not so much the physical body being held still, but our attention. We hold our mind in the present moment, and we refrain from judging, and instead simply observe. This is the practice of being mindful.
As defined by Roger Walsh and Shauna L. Shapiro’s research paper in 2006, Mindfulness is to train your attention — bringing mental processes (mind and thoughts) under greater voluntary control, thereby fostering overall mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities – i.e. calmness, clarity and concentration.
How do we train our attention, in other words, gain knowledge, of our mind and its capabilities and then understand how to steer it toward constructive thinking? By engaging consciously in any one of the activities shared below:
- Mindful meditation practice
- “Yoga brings a level of mindfulness that creates a respect for the body and, thus, more willpower to do the right things with better nutrition and activity.” —Mazen Abbas, D.O., M.P.H. Pediatric and Young Adult Gastroenterologist in Kailua, Hawaii
- The yoga practice each of us selects can be as rigorous or as restorative and restful as we desire, but each contribute to the mindfulness practice as we focus on our breath and remaining wholly in the present..
- Reflection, regular and frequent
- I include gardening as an example of any hobby you engage in that holds you in the present moment. You are not judging, but rather appreciating and observing all that you are witnessing. You delight in how something works, functions and operates or grows. You are not engaged in the task only for the outcome (i.e. the seeds must grow or I will not be satisfied! No, no, no, no, no. Rather, it is simply the act of being able to have your hands in the dirt, being able to witness Mother Nature in her different stages and seasons that holds you in the present moment).
A practice in Mindfulness is any regular practice that intentionally engages exercising the mind to hold it in the present moment – observing without judgment, and consciously becoming more aware of our breath and deepening how we breathe. All four of the above practices require the ability to hold the mind in the present and not let it run either to the future or past, or in the case of reflection, not veer off into rumination.
As is often the case, when raised in a culture that values results, growth and progress, many new students to the practice of mindfulness and more specifically mindful meditation, may reflexively ask, When will I notice the benefits, and What are the benefits? I include myself in having asked precisely these questions, but the truth is, once you begin to witness and experience the benefits I will share below, you have begun to shift away from looking into the future, and instead are savoring the present moment that is enriched because of your strengthened mindfulness. In other words, because you are fully present, you are savoring the everyday and have no need to run to the future in your mind.
The benefits of mindfulness are plentiful, stretching from health of one physically and mentally, as well as benefits witnessed in your social life and everyday life.
I wanted to write today’s post for you because earlier this month, I created the category of Mindfulness here on TSLL blog, a category of which many posts already fall under but because they were placed under a broader category (Lifestyle) were hard to locate when this specific search was the focus.
As I share on the Mindfulness’ category page, without Mindfulness we will not find, nor experience, Contentment. And as contentment is at the core of living a simply luxurious life, I wanted to dedicate an entire post to exploring the topic of Mindfulness because as you strengthen the skill of Mindfulness, you will discover more calm and steadiness in your everydays and a clarity and courage to honor your true self.
The Benefits of a Strong Mindfulness Practice
1.You begin to see yourself clearly
In a recent meditation practice, the practitioner stated this most important gift we give ourselves as the benefits of mindfulness appear in our lives – seeing ourselves clearly. When you truly see yourself clearly, you are being objective rather than self-critical or self-congratulatory. You acknowledge when you have engaged in a way that was not out of loving-kindness, and you are able to explore why you felt and behaved in such a way. Positive changes begin to become an intentional focus, and thus constructive changes begin to take place in your life. Conversely, you acknowledge your strengths, gifts, beauty and self-worth which enables you to honor yourself and not be cowed or thwarted even if perseverance is needed or a new approached required.
Arguably the most powerful gift you give yourself when you see yourself clearly is that you start journeying toward your dharma. Dharma is something many practitioners of meditation and Buddhism speak and write about (two posts of said authors were shared on the blog – here and here), and others such as Martha Beck, while not calling it dharma, speak to the concept being the key to deep and lasting fulfillment.
Passion + Expertise + Usefulness = Dharma
When you have clarity about yourself, you can accurately access where your passion lies, where you have expertise and how others would be of benefit regarding the former two you can uniquely and sincerely offer.
2. Reduction of blood pressure
Initially the concept of mindfulness may appear to fall into the ‘soft’ sciences, but study after study over the past twenty years has revealed its direct cause of improvements to our physical health. Case in point, one’s blood pressure has been reduced with a regular mindfulness practice (explore the findings here).
3. Strengthen and maintain cognitive skills as you age
Again, another study revealed that when it comes to cognitive function, through a regular mindfulness practice, we can reverse or delay the natural decline that occurs as we age.
4. Improve immune response to viruses and other disease-causing organisms
With multiple health benefits, this finding of the body’s ability to increase T-cells to thwart viruses and other disease-causing organisms is all the more reason to prioritize a regular mindfulness practice. What are T-cells? Essentially, the ‘good guys’ in your body. As defined by News Medical and Life Sciences, “T cells are a part of the immune system that focuses on specific foreign particles. Rather than generically attack any antigens, T cells circulate until they encounter their specific antigen. As such, T cells play a critical part in immunity to foreign substances”.
5. Decrease rumination
In last week’s podcast episode (#332), we focused on the topic of Reflection. Part of the discussion was to be able to discern the difference between reflection and rumination and how to avoid the latter. Well, how we avoid ruminating is to strengthen our ability to steer our minds where we want it to, and that is where our mindfulness practice comes to help us out.
6. Able to observe, monitor and regulate emotions constructively
When we are able to see ourselves clearly, a crucial part of this gained self-knowledge is understanding our feelings: being able to accurately identify what we are feeling (this pdf is a helpful list of specific words identifying emotions), discern the root cause of the emotion and being able to honestly tell ourselves how feeling such an emotion affects us. Once we know such knowledge, we can become more of an observer of our feelings and refrain from letting our emotions guide us; in other words, we are better able to refrain from reacting and instead give ourselves time to observe, then respond, thus the regulation part which is constructive.
7. Improve your working memory
We strengthen our working memory, which is the short-term memory that enables us to work effectively on the task at hand as it requires conscious perceptual and linguistic processing, when we have a regular mindfulness practice. Whether it is remembering what someone told us in a conversation earlier in the day or week, the details we have labeled in our mind as important to complete a task, or anything that upon recalling them, we do so accurately and completely.
8. Improved duration of focus on a single task
Being able to step into the ‘flow’ of a project or zoning entirely into the task at hand, this skill is just that, a skill, and it is strengthened when we strengthen our mind. When we strengthen our mind’s ability to hold its attention fully in the present moment, we work far better and more effectively because we are not easily distracted. Think of your attention/focus as a rubberband that is strong and pliable versus an old rubberband that is brittle. When a distraction arises, as a strong and pliable rubberband, while the distraction may pull, it will not break your attention on the task at hand because you know how to hold yourself where you want your attention to be.
9. Improved ability to respond (constructive) rather than react (destructive)
The difference between responding versus reacting is something we have talked/written about in-depth here on TSLL and in my latest two books (see an introductory post/episode below).
10. Healthy and enjoyable relationships
Again, the reason I began today’s list with the benefit of gaining clarity about ourselves is because it feeds into all of the items on this list that follow it. Once we know how and why we do what we do and whether or not the behavior or thoughts are constructive, we begin to make beneficial changes to our way of living. A key component to living well is knowing how to communicate effectively. Specifically, something we have talked about here on TSLL is non-violent communication, a practice of honoring our needs, but doing so in a loving way, as well as knowing how to receive and understand what others need as well.
When we welcome such skills into our life, building our toolbox as is discussed in detail in TSLL’s 2nd book – Living The Simply Luxurious Life – we are better able to respond well during relationship stress and able to communication well using the NVC approach. And as we cannot predict when such stressful moments will arise, the mindfulness tools enable flexibility to respond effectively in a variety of situations.
11. Improved empathy
Because we know how to care for ourselves, how to seek out what we need, we also know what we can give, but even if we can’t give what someone else needs, we can empathize. We can extend understanding rather than be dismissive or be apathetic which further inflames or weakens the human connection.
12. Strengthened security in ourselves and our ability to navigate the unknown
Because we become comfortable and find peace in the present moment, we are not constantly trying to chase tomorrow down and tell it what it must be in order for us to be happy. In effect, such a way of living creates more stress. The truth is none of us know what tomorrow or even the next hour will bring, but when we find peace in the here and now and don’t bring our own judgments and value to it (by comparing it to other moments, events, lives), we remind ourselves that we will be able to handle whatever comes. We will have the knowledge to deeply savor all the goodness that surrounds us, and when an unwanted moment arises, we will not exacerbate it through worry, assumption and reaction.
13. Capable of setting necessary boundaries
#1 on this list teaches us about ourselves, what we need versus what we desire, and honoring what we discover even if few or any persons align familiarly. In episode #126 of the topic of boundaries and vulnerability is discussed, and it is through knowing that what you need is the only reason necessary to set a boundary that gives you strength to do so.
14. Your posture improves
Because your self-awareness is increasing, this includes awareness of your body – how you hold yourself, how you feel in your body – and that includes posture.
15. You begin to care for your physical body thoughtfully
Similarly to #14, you acknowledge when you feel good in your body, and when you don’t feel your best. You pay attention to what causes you to feel this way and begin to make choices in your eating, drinking and fitness habits that contribute to feeling well in your body.
16. Reduction of defensiveness or personalization of others’ behavior
Part of being defensive is not trusting you know how to engage and connect with the world (or certain people you come into contact with) in a way that will allow you to feel heard. By being defensive, you jump to what you feel needs to be done first because you don’t trust the other person will listen with an open-mind or that you will be able to communicate effectively (not to persuade, but to at the very least, help them understand your perspective).
When we take what someone says personally, we have bypassed being observant and jumped to judgment; we have reacted rather than responded. In other words, we haven’t taken in to account all of the contextual events the other person witnessed to make such a statement that stung us. Once we have all of the necessary contextual evidence, then, we can come to a conclusion, and it may indeed involve us in some way, but by immediately jumping to taking what they say personally, we cause ourselves unnecessary pain and stress and strain the relationship.
All of that is to say, when we are mindful and have a strong mindfulness practice, we respond rather than react, we step away from judgment and instead observe, and this gives us the space to ask necessary questions, to think critically and then engage in a constructive manner for ourselves, and if we choose to and if possible, benefit the other person.
The phrase mindfulness practice may initially sound too abstract and undefined to be something worth pursuing and giving patience to manifest its benefits, but what I hope you have found in today’s post is a concrete blue-print, so to speak, of (1) what mindfulness is, (2) how you engage in strengthening being mindful and (3) the many awesome benefits that can be welcomed and experienced in your life when you do so.
Unlike a prescription picked up at the pharmacy, the benefits of a mindfulness practice don’t happen swiftly, but rather take time and gradually build before we begin to witness the change in our daily lives, but that is to our benefit because it means the benefits we gain will be long-lasting and not only beneficial to our quality of life but to those we spend our days and lives with.
I find myself on the journey of strengthening my mindfulness practice, now with more intention and clarity than I ever have in the past. As I shared in the post detailing meditation, my meditation practice, my first conscious step into becoming more mindful, began in my twenties, now twenty years ago, but at the time, I didn’t have or know where to find teachers or resources that clearly explained (to the student I was at the time) the benefits of meditating and exactly why I was doing it in the first place (or how to do it). However, something kept drawing me toward understanding what being mindful was because how I was living, what society was telling me regarding how I should live, wasn’t fulfilling and frankly, wasn’t enjoyable in the present moment so many ”supposed-tos” were pulling me away either into the future or holding me in the past (admittedly, my mind was doing this, but I didn’t have the skills to change these ’defaults’). I was always chasing after something or having to improve something, and it was not enjoyable and was constantly stressful. I became tired of living this way, and knew there had to be a more contented way of living, and thus TSLL began to more fully evolve into exploring what true contentment is all about and how to live every day savoring the awesomeness that is our one and only life.
SIMILAR POSTS/EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY