Text by Sue Burns
ur greatest experiences are our quietest moments.”
I’m not exactly sure what Friedrich Nietzsche meant by this when he wrote it in the late 1800s, but since he was a proponent of individuals thinking for themselves, I will apply my present-day interpretation. I believe that his words infer that we gain the most understanding and benefit when we take time to go within ourselves and connect to our minds, spirits and hearts. A shorter way to convey Nietzsche’s thought would be with one word: mindfulness.
Mindfulness. From the intense focus on it lately, one might think that it’s a new buzzword, but mindfulness has been around for ages. It’s a concept enjoying a new popularity, attracting many who previously hadn’t given it much thought — pardon the pun. But what is it?
Mindful magazine states that mindfulness is “… a simple idea … that has a lot of different dimensions … it’s doing what we can to be present where we are right now.”
“Don’t get me wrong — practicing mindfulness won’t make everything rosy or perfect or give you all the answers. But it will help bring calmness to your moments and allow your mind to relax and focus on what’s important to you.”
The ability to be present in the moment takes different forms for different folks, ranging from long sessions of yoga and meditation to simply holding a moment in time. This makes mindfulness easier to experience than you think — in fact, you’ve probably already practiced it without realizing it. Have you ever stopped what you were doing to take in the beauty of a gander of geese flying in a V at sunset? Or paused to watch and listen to a welcome rain? Or inhaled the comforting smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven? Stopping to embrace a moment, not thinking of anything but that moment, allowing it to permeate your whole being, is mindfulness.
Why make the effort to practice mindfulness? It’s a question that I was pondering at the beginning of 2020 “BC” (Before COVID). A desire for greater ability to center myself, calm my mind, reduce anxiety and focus more fully on projects at hand, and understand how this ability had already infused my life and work led me to search for more information. The ensuing months sheltering at home allowed me time to recognize how mindfulness was a significant part of my life and how I could be intentional about expanding my practice of it. It’s a work in progress, which means that I’m always listening and learning.
Countless studies show that mindfulness is helpful in reducing stress, anxiety and depression; in increasing focus, attention and memory, and improving sleep, immunity and overall health. It even helps to regulate emotions — think of taking that deep breath when we’re angry or frustrated and how it allows us to react with a calmer whisper instead of a fierce roar.
In more immediate terms, mindfulness can go a long way to helping us cope with what’s happening in the moment. On what we call — or would have called before 2020 — a “normal” day; there’s a relay race of sorts going on in our brains. Waking up, making breakfast, getting ready and out the door to work and school hands the baton off to traffic, a morning meeting and a lengthening to-do list, which hands off to afternoon pickups, homework, dinner, evening activities and prepping for the next day before we hit the sack and do it all again in the morning. Now add in everything that’s happened over the last 10 months due to COVID-19’ stay-at-home orders: Working from home, distance learning and surges, safety measures and vaccinations. Wrapping our heads around that, along with the social and political climate, and it’s no wonder that many of us are constantly feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Don’t get me wrong — practicing mindfulness won’t make everything rosy or perfect or give you all the answers. But it will help bring calmness to your moments and allow your mind to relax and focus on what’s important to you.
It will give you the chance to remember and appreciate all of the positive things in your life, and gratitude makes a huge difference in our attitude, especially during these stressful times when so many challenges seem insurmountable.
How do we begin to practice mindfulness? Being more intentional about incorporating it into your day is key. As mentioned, yoga and meditation are great ways to implement mindfulness in your routine. You may not feel like you have the time to add these activities. That’s okay; being intentionally mindful is about what works for you. And what works for you, especially as you begin, might be micro-meditations, quick ways to experience what I call “mindful moments.”
Stop for a moment, close your eyes and think about that aroma of warm chocolate chip cookies. Take a deep breath, inhaling the smell of the butter, sugar and chocolate as they melt together. Besides the satisfaction of the flavor and the soft and gooey texture, what feelings come to mind? The comfort of baking with your family?
The joy and camaraderie of laughing with your siblings or friends as you eat cookies with a glass of cold milk? Let those feelings flood your mind and body. Exhale slowly and open your eyes.
Micro-meditations can be part of virtually any activity. Taking time to focus on and value specific aspects of whatever you’re doing at the moment will relax and center you and perhaps bring a new perspective to the task at hand. Think about the sights, sounds and smells as they apply to your undertaking. Appreciate the company of the person you’re working with, if that applies. Who will benefit from your work — how will you benefit from your work? What other questions can you ask yourself that will bring clarity of vision to your endeavor? Take a mindful moment whenever and however often you’d like.
More ways to incorporate mindfulness are activities that you may already do or can be easily assimilated into your lifestyle:
- Eat a healthy diet: Food is medicine that can positively impact your physical and mental health.
- Exercise regularly (always consult your physician first if you have health issues).
- Volunteer: Helping others is another way to change your perspective. (Nietzsche also said, “I was in darkness, but I took three steps and found myself in paradise. The first step was a good thought, the second, a good word, and the third, a good deed.”).
- Spend time with pets and animals: The exercise, fun and companionship you have with them is healing for body and soul.
- Take a break from television (or at least the news) and social media. Read a book, learn a new skill, plant a garden…
And now as I conclude, I’ll take a moment to close my eyes, feel the happiness that accompanies a project completed, and be grateful for the opportunity to share how this practice can make a difference in our perspectives and, by extension, our lives.