The concept of mindfulness has become quite the buzzword in the last decade in both professional, spiritual, and self-help verbiage. I am not sure whether it has become overused as a concept, but I feel certain it is not used enough in our day-to-day lives. I don’t mean the word itself. I mean the practice of it. Our lives are too busy and we feel too hurried most of the time.
The way I see it, mindfulness is a combination of skill sets. There are a variety of skills (for lack of another word) necessary to practice it, and most of those we have heard of, but find ourselves struggling with in our quest for genuine mindfulness.
One of the first things required is personal awareness. This means that we have awareness of our hopes, our fears, our triggers, our thought patterns, our feelings, our bodies, our needs, our limitations and whatever else that makes us an individual.
While many of us think we are fully aware of these things, we often don’t take into account those programmed behavioral patterns and defense mechanisms that automatically create a reaction in response to them. These triggers trip us up, cause conflict with others, create defensiveness and generate all around ick in our lives. We create these dramas repeatedly because we don’t fully believe we are creating them or contributing to them.
Until we can have enough awareness and enough honesty with ourselves (dropping our defensiveness and denial that we are indeed humans that are imperfect), we aren’t going to be able to see these dramas unfold as part of our pattern of relating. Instead, we perpetuate the dramas over and over again.
I watch myself create and take part in others’ dramas the most when I am not taking care of my basic needs of self-care. Chronic, progressive illness aside, we are all going to find ourselves doing this at home, at work, at the grocery store, in the parking lot, etc. if we aren’t taking care of those needs.
In addition to down and dirty honesty with ourselves and awareness of our patterns, we aren’t likely to have mindfulness. We also aren’t likely to respond and not react either, which definitely requires some degree of mindfulness.
If you look up definitions of mindfulness, you will find a variety of different versions of the same basic concept (in addition to hundreds of pages of people advertising they can teach you how for a fee). Mindfulness is being aware, accepting, and non-judgmental about what we are seeing about ourselves. It is being aware of what we are thinking, feeling and experiencing in our bodies, in our environments and everywhere.
I often feel the potential for reacting on a physical level first before I even realize there was a trigger. Viscerally, I feel nauseated, tearful and angry at the same time, and know that something is definitely not ok with the interaction or environment I am experiencing. I stop to search my memories for things that might be similar to see if it is my stuff or not first, so that I know better whether I am triggered and reacting to an experience or if it truly is something going on right now.
When we practice mindfulness, we are not reacting to the past. We might be triggered in the present moment to react, but we stop short of that and mindfully process our experience so that we can respond in a thoughtful and considerate way that is actually appropriate to the situation at hand. Because mindfulness is a practice, we are practicing it so that we can get better at it.