“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
We all have frantic days filled with chaos that make us feel like we want to curl up in bed and shut out the world. This is- for better or worse- part of our contract with life when we are human. You see, us humans have an amazing range of emotions that vary from deep sadness to euphoria, and intense anger to unconditional love. On top of that, we think a lot. Our brains, if left unfettered, have a tendency to go a million directions in any given day.
These emotions, and all the hundreds of thousands of thoughts that accompany them, leave us feeling chaotic, tired, disorganized and unfocused. Does that sound familiar? This uncomfortable state of being is the problem that mindfulness was designed to solve.
Mindfulness is prevalent in pop culture today thanks to figures like Deepak Chopra, Oprah and other celebrities that promote mindfulness. But don’t let them fool you. Mindfulness is no sell-out, and much cooler and hip than the celebrities promoting it. So cool, in fact, that it’s an ancient practice dating back thousands of years to help with the all-too-relevant problem of intense emotions and busy minds.
Ancient Buddhist texts encouraged people to develop practices of meditation and a lifestyle of mindfulness to increase awareness and encourage the “freedom of suffering” (and, as we saw in the beginning of this post, the absence of mindfulness and the mental chaos that ensues IS certainly suffering).
In modern times, Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with bringing the practice of mindfulness into the mainstream (Graham, 1991). He defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s knowing what’s on your mind” (Mindful, 2017). In the 1980’s Jon Kabat-Zinn researched how mindfulness is the most powerful remedy for our fast-paced, chaotic lifestyle in the western world. His research showed that simply bringing awareness to the here and now (thoughts, sensations, and the details of one’s life) remedies anxiety, reduces depression and increases satisfaction tremendously.
This is the ‘big deal’ about mindfulness. It is the single most important tool at our disposal to live a peaceful, satisfying life. I’m sure that you want in on this magic. If I’m right, here is a way to start a practice of mindfulness right now:
- Slow down: You don’t have to rush through everything. Rushing and chaos are the antithesis to mindfulness. Make efforts to move at half pace.
- Bring attention to your breath: When your mind is running, when you feel anxious, or when you feel chaotic, bring attention to your breath. Focus on simply breathing in, and breathing out. This will ground you and help you to come back to a mindful state.
- Become an observer of your thoughts and sensations: Your thoughts do not define you, and are not a reflection of you. Every person has thousands of random, chaotic thoughts in a day. As opposed to being swayed by all of these thoughts in various directions, focus efforts on becoming an observer of your mind and sensations. You do not need to follow the rabbit hole of every negative thought, feeling, or sensation you have. Adopting an ‘observer’ perspective will help you gain healthy control over your thoughts, sensations and emotional experiences.
- Try meditation: Meditation is to the mind, what exercise is for the body. Meditation helps you learn to reduce mental chatter and quiet the mind. Just like exercise, you need to to do it consistently over time and it is much more challenging in the beginning. With a consistent meditation practice you can achieve a mindful lifestyle with greater ease and will have more control over the direction of your thoughts (even when you’re not meditating).
Graham, B. (1991). “In the Dukkha Magnet Zone: An Interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn.” Tricycle.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Bantam Dell.
Lutz, A.; Davidson, R.; Slagter, H. (2011). “Mental Training as a Tool in the Neuroscientific Study of Brain and Cognitive Plasticity.“ Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Mindful Staff. (2017, January 17). https://www/mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness.
Paginini, F.; Philips, D. (2015). “Being Mindful About Mindfulness.” The Lancet Psychiatry. 2(4): 288-9.