Updated: Jan 9, 2020
Many of us have experienced the benefits of mindfulness and wish to take this to the next level. Most articles about mindfulness in our daily lives talk about being present while doing certain activities during our day, rather than caught up in the whirlpool of our thoughts, memories of our past and plans for our future. Being present while having a shower, driving our cars, washing dishes, interacting with our loved ones, or eating a meal helps us pause from our habitual tendencies of self-absorption and connects us with our experiences within ourselves and our environment.
All these are wonderful first steps, but there is so much more to the practice of mindfulness. One reason why it is difficult for people to truly engage in this practice continuously in their daily lives, apart from the few scenarios they have set out for themselves, is because the impact of simply being present is not powerful enough a motivator to engage in this practice throughout the day. The essential WIIFM question is not answered compellingly enough to bother to remember to be mindful all the time.
There is no inherent value in being in the present. Mindfulness is a skill that can be cultivated to help us in our lives. Whether it is to alleviate stress, find more joy in our lives, connect with gratitude, develop more harmonious relationships, build our concentration or understand the nature of our existence, we use mindfulness as a tool to make our lives, and the lives of the people around us, better in some way or another.
It is useful start with the question of why you would like to be more mindful in your daily life. All honest answers are relevant, for this is highly personal and based on your current life situation and inclination. You may know that your stress levels are very high at the moment, and wish to reduce this. Or you may be aware that cultivating joy, generosity or gratitude would be beneficial for you, and choose to direct your mindfulness towards these qualities. Alternatively, you may wish to improve your concentration, explore the deeper meaning of our existence, or more wisely respond to the needs of your body. Anything that resonates with you personally can serve as a motivator.
Once you have a clear aspiration in mind, at the start of each day, remind yourself of this and set an intention to apply mindfulness in service of it. For example, if you wish to reduce stress in your life, set an aspiration to tune in to your level of stress as frequently as you can during the day. It does not take much time nor energy to do this. If you pause and reflect on your stress levels at any given time, you can quite immediately get a general sense of this. This is the first step.
Now that you have used mindfulness to tune in to your stress levels, see if you can take the stress down a couple of notches. How you do this is going to be highly personalised. It may be that you take a couple of deep breaths, look up and notice something pleasant in your environment, reflect on something to be grateful for, or tune into your body to consciously relax any areas of tension. You may take yourself for a short walk, listen to some music, or remind yourself of a pleasant interaction with a loved one. It doesn’t matter what you do; as long as it works for you at that time, you are taking appropriate actions in service of your aspiration.
Frequently, people feel they need to take their stress levels all the way down. This is not necessary. If our stress levels are 7 out of 10, taking this down to 6.5 is heading in the right direction and can be considered to be a complete success. So, whether our levels are at 9 or at 3, taking this down a notch simply means heading in the direction of our aspiration of reducing stress in our lives.
This works for any aspiration you may have. If you aspire to cultivate more gratitude in your life, you can use mindfulness to notice things during the day that you can be grateful for, as well as tune in to your level of gratitude at any given moment during the day. You can start with an intention each morning to be more aware of things in your life that you may possibly not have noticed. For example, the fact that we are currently relatively healthy is something we often take for granted. Immediately after an illness, we may appreciate the contrast between our good health and how we may have felt while we were ill, but we very quickly take this good health for granted. Reflecting on this body of ours, that largely functions automatically to enable us to breathe, work, love and play, is a useful direction to explore gratitude. We can also reflect on our relationships, our living conditions, or anything else that we often take for granted.
In addition to things we can appreciate, we can also use mindfulness to tune into the level of gratitude we have at any given time of our day, and correlate this with how this makes us feel. How do we feel when we have a wholehearted feeling of gratitude that suffuses our entire being? How do we feel when we feel mildly grateful, or when gratitude is not present in our lives? Do we enjoy some of these situations more than others? How can awareness of gratitude be used in service of our well-being?
If we have a fuller awareness of the bigger picture of life, we can transform our lives using this powerful tool of mindfulness. In so doing, we can free our minds of the habitual ways in which we normally perceive the world, and live with more peace and wisdom.
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