Thursday, March 6, 2008

Practicing mindfulness

"Awareness is not the same as thought. It lies beyond thinking, although it makes use of thinking, honoring its value and its power. Awareness is more like a vessel which can hold and contain our thinking, helping us to see and know our thoughts as thoughts rather than getting caught up in them as reality."
~Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

After immersing myself in the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle for a few days, it is perhaps natural that this week I've been drawn to the concept of staying present, paying attention, being mindful. It's a concept that ties in with just about everything on the spiritual path, because it is through mindfulness that we connect with the only thing that is truly real--the present moment. Whether you're meditating, doing the dishes, having a conversation, in a meeting, practicing mindfulness enables you to actually see what is happening around you, to notice any messages that are available to you, and to experience this moment in all of its fullness and richness.

I had a wonderful experience of mindfulness yesterday that honestly could not have come at a better time. I started my day tangled up in old patterns of focusing my attention on the past and the future instead of the present. What this looks like for me is reliving conversations I've had with my husband, or one of my parents, or a friend, or possibly even inventing conversations I wished I'd had with them. Or I might try to figure out how something that is coming up is going to go, what it is going to look like, how it is going to make me feel. Often, this type of thinking leaves me agitated, with the focus being on things that have (or might) make me sad, angry, or uncomfortable.

So, of course, I sought to center myself through my morning meditation practice. The interesting thing was that my meditation kept getting interrupted. Normally, I would just ignore the phone if it rang while I was meditating, but my intuition kept telling me to go answer it. So I'd get up, talk to whoever was on the phone, maybe read something or answer an email, make the bed, and then sit back down on the couch to continue meditating. By the time I was able to complete my full meditation, it was noon, and I had spent most of the past three hours in something approaching a meditative state. Even while I was up and about, I'd managed to practice mindfulness as I went about my business. The result was that I found myself almost in an ecstatic trance, where it was like I was seeing everything around me for the first time, perceiving all five senses with an intensity I've only experienced on a handful of previous occasions. I was absolutely awestruck and felt so light and free and completely connected with Source and the world around me.

Perhaps because of the patterns of living in the past and the future, I've often struggled with truly staying present. While the trance-like state did wear off, in the hours since then I've had a lot more success with being present and I've been able to really see it for the practice that it is. While a meditation practice is often something you only engage in once a day, mindfulness can be practiced in any conscious moment. Like meditation, when you find your thoughts slipping backwards or forwards, even if it as simple as what you think you might enjoy for your next meal, move your awareness back to something that is happening for you right in this moment. An easy place to begin is with your breath, since you are always breathing. Here are a few additional examples of how to bring this practice into your daily activities, things that have worked for me in the past and that I'm really enjoying in my present:

* One of my favorite techniques is to focus on your feet when you're walking, especially if you're barefoot. Really pay attention to the way the carpet or wood or grass feels underneath your feet, the way your feet and body balance, the up-and-down movement, the forward motion, the weight of your body on your toes.

* When you're showering, really feel the water flowing over your body, your head, your skin, truly notice the sensations. Smell the soap and shampoo, feel the lather under your fingers, in your hair. Maybe listen to the birds chirping outside your window, feel the warmth of the sun coming through and notice the shift as it moves behind a cloud.

* When you walk past a fan or you're out in the wind, feel the air blowing across your face and through your hair, feel the way your clothes move with it and rustle across your skin. When it rains, take a moment to stand in it and allow the drops to hit your face, feel their moisture and their coolness against your cheeks and lips.

* As you're eating, bring each forkful of food up to your lips slowly, feel the food slide off the fork, notice its texture and flavor against your tongue, the motion your jaw makes when you're chewing. Take time to appreciate all of the flavors in each bite, maybe play a game of trying to discern what spices have been used, or close your eyes so you're surprised at which thing from your plate has made its way into your mouth.

* If you have a pet, sit down with them and pet them, really feeling their fur, warming yourself with their warmth. Listen to their breathing, feel their purring or barking, breathe in their smell.

* Any time you're outside, look around you for the beauty of the place you're in. It might be easy at the beach or in a park, but take time to see the sky amongst the city's buildings, notice the birds, see the bountiful color that is everywhere regardless of where you are.

And as I write this, I am feeling the keyboard under my fingers as I'm typing, the amount of pressure it takes, the way each key gives. I hear the "click click click" as the keys are pressed, notice the type as it moves across the white background of the screen, feel the cool air as it blows in through the open window. There are always a million things to notice in any given moment. Take a deep breath now, feel the rise and fall of your body, the air as it moves across your nose and lips. Listen to the sounds around you, smell the odors in the air, feel the temperature of the room you're in. Pull yourself into this moment and see it for what it is, experience what it has to offer, and you've already begun to practice being mindful. Namaste.

Recommended Reading:
The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hahn
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Photo: "Water Dances Through My Toes," originally uploaded by Mommy 2Lots

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Lita said...

I enjoyed this very much ...

Jenn Sheridan said...

Oh, thank you! It's good to "see" you again... :)

camilyn said...


You've a very good blog. Most people will not realize what mind power can do to one's success.

Mano said...


You have a really good weblog. To come to be a prosperous person the fundamental issue is to have positive thinking.