Magical Mindfulness

Katie Watts Renell's picture

"Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience."
-Psychology Today

Phew! That's a mouthful! What does it all mean?!? How does it affect my daily life? And most importantly... Why do I care? All great questions, so let's get crackin'!

Mindfulness, in a nutshell, is the ability to, as we say in DBT,  "be where your feet are".  It is a way to focus on what exactly is happening at the present moment, and noticing when your thoughts get distracted and bringing them back to the present.  That is the tough part! We all find our thoughts drifting away from time to time. It’s inevitable. The trick is to be able to acknowledge that, bring our focus back on the present, and to try to not judge ourselves in the process!

To say to yourself, “In order to be mindful, I must be present, in the moment, without distractions” or “to be mindful, is to never judge myself or my thoughts” is unrealistic and unattainable. We are not all Zen Buddhist Monks! Mindfulness is simply the act of noticing when you become distracted and bringing yourself back again and again and again… and again!

I try to think of all minds like newborn, untrained puppies. They are stupid cute, unruly little things… When you have a puppy, it will naturally wander off, it’ll chew your shoes, and yes, even pee on the rug. You wouldn’t shame an untrained puppy! No, instead you’d gently pick up your puppy and set it back where it needed to be. Whenever I begin to judge my own mind for continually becoming distracted, I try to think of my mind as a fat, little, roly, poly puppy. This helps me see my thoughts through the lens of compassion and love, rather than self-defeating criticism.

“OK, Katie. So? How does that affect me? Why should I care?” you might ask. That’s a great question. Using mindfulness helps in a myriad of ways and facets of our daily lives. Distracted? It’s easy to get overloaded with work, school, kids, and home life.  How about stress? We all feel it. Sometimes stress takes away our ability to enjoy life, and relax. Anxiety? It can be distracting and at times completely debilitating. Mindfulness gives us a tool to combat all of these things.

Mindfulness is a concept that can be used informally, on a daily basis, mindfully taking a shower, mindfully sipping your cup of coffee in the morning. It’s intentionally paying attention to the present moment. Mindfulness is like a muscle, it takes time and training to build.  Formal meditation practice is like a “workout”, to help train your “mindfulness muscle.” The more you train through meditation, the stronger you become in your ability to take notice of the present moment in your daily life.

Meditation is a key mindfulness tool. Studies have shown that consistent meditation can reduce over-all stress and improve things like memory and empathy. Meditation is a learned skill, and sometimes can be frustrating, confusing, and overwhelming without some guidance. Trust me, I’ve been there! The entire point of meditation is to gain insight into your mind. That’s it. Check all other expectations at the door.

It can really help to have someone teach you the ropes, and not have to go it alone. There are a variety of self-guided meditation programs out there. One of the ones that I use regularly is an app called “Headspace”. It’s a great way of getting your feet wet in the world of mindfulness meditation. Tara Brach, Ph.D, psychologist, author and teacher of meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening, is also an amazing resource in the world of mindful meditation. Her website, www.tarabrach.com, offers hundreds of free guided mediations. In addition, if you are interested in developing your own formal meditation practice, check out Peachtree DBT’s Mindfulness Mondays!