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The process of getting our minds to our desired state - whether focused, calm, happy, or simply quiet - is something that fascinates me, particularly because it proves to be quite difficult to consistently achieve. We try to focus our mind and it strays, we look for calm and worry persists, we strive for happiness yet we’re overcome with regret and sadness. We think these thoughts and feelings represent a solid sense of “self” and something must be wrong with us to be thinking these thoughts and feeling these negative emotions that are counter to our intentions. Thus, we tend to suppress our unwanted thoughts and emotions or avoid situations that might produce our dreaded feelings of anxiety or stress. By suppressing these feelings, however, we only further intensify them, leading to more suffering and bewilderment than before. There is a way out and it starts by seeing through this cycle using non-judgmental, present-moment awareness, known as mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of being in which thoughts, emotions, and sensations are experienced simply as they are - without judgment or an agenda attached to them.
This ability to pay attention to the present is something that is developed and increased through meditation, commonly known as “mindfulness meditation”. Mindfulness meditation involves placing our focus on our breath and returning it to our breath as we wander. When we first sit down to meditate, the difficulty of the task can make it seem as though our mind is even wilder than we had previously thought. This is natural, as we are becoming aware of the discursiveness of our mind. The key is to continue to recognize the thoughts as they arise and return our attention to the breath, over and over again. Looking deeply into our thoughts and judging them as good or bad only adds more thoughts to the process.
What we are doing with this practice is widening the space between our thoughts and emotions and our reaction to them. Rather than promoting one thought over another or altering the contents of our thoughts, we are reducing our belief in our thoughts. We see our thoughts come and go and we aren’t so limited by them, but rather free to experience each moment without being swept away by it. You’ll find that your thoughts don’t have the same power over you as they used to, and you’re not as distracted.
Tomorrow morning when you wake up, take a breath, and ask yourself “what does my mind feel like?” As you continue with your day, check in with your mind and notice where it is residing. Use your wisdom to decide if its current focus is serving you well in this moment.
As a college golfer, my introduction to mindfulness came from my desire to improve my focusing ability on the golf course. I had thought that the best way to prepare for each shot was to think these amazingly positive thoughts and feel unwavering confidence in my body. I would spend so much time frustratingly trying to achieve this state of being that I would lose focus on the actual shot I was trying to hit. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to experience whatever fear or feelings of nervousness occurring inside of me that I was able to tap into the calmness and sharp focus within my mind.
It’s this practicality of mindfulness that has lead to its arrival in Western Culture as evidenced by numerous scientific and medical studies published on its effectiveness in dealing with stress, anxiety disorders, depression, and chronic pain. Along with the medical and scientific fields, mindfulness has spread in public and private schools, corporate cultures, and professional sports teams. I encourage you to join in and take the first step into incorporating mindfulness into your daily life. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, take a breath, and ask yourself “what does my mind feel like?” As you continue with your day, check in with your mind and notice where it is residing. Use your wisdom to decide if its current focus is serving you well in this moment. It’s a practice and you are brave for starting this journey.