Mindfulness is popular these days. Many people who are stressed think they would like to learn mindfulness so that they can be more peaceful, but then wonder how in the world they could possible sit still and calm their mind. They think that mindfulness means sitting on a meditation cushion with an empty mind. If this is your case, you may be missing the broader meaning of mindfulness and losing out on its benefits. Mindfulness may seem unattainable to you if you are prone to worry, but truthfully, mindfulness is the perfect antidote to worry.
Mindfulness is about more than seated meditation. Mindfulness involves both attitude and practice, and our ability to live mindfully grows with time. Some mindfulness practices are formal, such as seated meditation, while others are informal, more of a shift in attitude and focus while going about an ordinary action. Not being able to sit still with a quiet mind does not mean you can’t learn mindfulness. It means that you may need guidance in finding the right practices for you.
At its heart mindfulness is about being with the present moment with an attitude of acceptance. It is the opposite of worry because worry is about what has happened in the past and what might happen in the future. Being with the present moment doesn’t mean you have to like what is happening. It means that rather than running away from your concerns, you move toward them until they transform. The idea is to make friends with your issues rather than trying to escape them. Like Max in the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, who overcame monsters by looking directly into their eyes, mindfulness enables you to allow your monsters to be as they are. And then you find peace, just as Max found himself back in his warm bed.
There is a human tendency to run from pain and discomfort. We find so many ways to avoid it. We get out of balance and overdo activities that we hope will help us escape. For some it is substance abuse-alcohol, or drugs-while for others, it’s shopping, or too much TV, or too much gossip. It doesn’t matter what the activity is. Most of these activities are fine in reasonable proportion and used appropriately. It is when they become an escape hatch from the present that they become problematic and turn against us robbing us of the very precious awareness that could alleviate our distress and bring us fullness and joy in the moment.
If you are struggling with worry, you might ask yourself how you are coping. Is your reaction to issues by trying to escape? Are you eating too much, drinking too much alcohol, or shopping compulsively? Are you sleeping too much or retreating from people? Do you complain or gossip, stay overly busy, or spend long unproductive hours on the computer? If the answer to any of these is yes, consider beginning a mindfulness practice. Although the central attitude of mindfulness-acceptance of the current moment-is not always easy to carry out, especially when things aren’t going your way, over time practitioners generally report a decrease in suffering. Embracing the attitudes of mindfulness and finding the right practices for you can help you move to a happier more productive way of living. The choice is yours.