“Mindfulness is the state of being fully aware of the present moment — and not caught up in the STUFF that can cycle in the mind.”, With Beau Henderson & Author Joy Rains

Mindfulness is the state of being fully aware of the present moment — and not caught up in the STUFF that can cycle in the mind. I use STUFF as an acronym for Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations, and Feelings. Mindfulness allows you to notice your STUFF, while still experiencing life in the here and now. […]

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Mindfulness is the state of being fully aware of the present moment — and not caught up in the STUFF that can cycle in the mind. I use STUFF as an acronym for Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations, and Feelings. Mindfulness allows you to notice your STUFF, while still experiencing life in the here and now.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joy Rains.

Joy Rains is the author of the primer Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind and host of the podcast Mindful 180. Her book and podcast are designed to help those new to meditation tap into its transformative power. Her teaching is a synthesis of many different traditions, and is geared toward the general public.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’ve grappled with anxieties since I was a young girl. In my late 20s, I yearned for peace of mind and became intrigued with the idea of meditation. I immersed myself in studies and practiced regularly. I became less stressed. Less reactive. More accepting. More grounded.

Inspired by the transformative power of meditation, I completed an eighteen-month contemplative leadership course in 2009. Since then, I’ve been offering programs in the community and workplace. My hope is to bring people ideas and practices that can transform their lives — and help them find clarity, inspiration, and peace of mind.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When Insight Timer published my guided meditations on their app, numerous listeners posted ratings. Comments came in from around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, Hong Kong, and even Mauritius, a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean. I certainly wasn’t expecting such a wide reach when I began teaching, but I think it’s proof that meditation can transcend boundaries.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Many companies are already incorporating mindful practices into the workplace. My advice is to follow their lead. Scientific studies show that a mindful culture can create an atmosphere where people are less stressed, more productive, and more compassionate.

Practicing mindfulness at work can be very simple. Some companies institute “Mindful Mondays,” where they begin the work week with a short meditation practice. Other companies have designated quiet spaces for employees to clear their minds. One company I worked with has a long path that leads from their parking lot to their office building, a perfect place for a walking meditation — both to and from work.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I’ve been influenced by many books, but one that stands out is Your Life Is Your Message by Eknath Easwaran. The book is filled with practical and inspirational lessons for mindful living. I love his teaching because it’s accessible; Easwaran doesn’t ask people to make grand changes in their way of being. Rather, he suggests simple steps that enrich readers, their relationships, and the world.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

Mindfulness is the state of being fully aware of the present moment — and not caught up in the STUFF that can cycle in the mind. I use STUFF as an acronym for Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations, and Feelings. Mindfulness allows you to notice your STUFF, while still experiencing life in the here and now.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

The benefits of mindfulness can be profound: reduced stress, increased focus, and enhanced well-being — just to name a few. One great way to become mindful is through the practice of meditation. Long-time meditators show physiological changes in imaging tests of their brains that account for these benefits.

Just as you can do sit-ups to build your abdominal muscles, you can meditate to build your mind’s muscle and your capacity for mindfulness. Of course, you can practice mindfulness doing most anything, and I’ll say more about this later.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

Step One: Stay Present

Keeping your attention in the present moment is key to reducing stress. People typically experience high anxiety when they imagine dire future outcomes. Let’s take a look at how Judy and Jenny approach their lives to show how being mindful — and not being mindful — can affect stress levels.

Judy wakes up in the morning and immediately listens to the cable news. As she hears reports of what’s going on in the world, her mind jumps to the future. She imagines getting sick and not having enough money to pay her bills. While these events may or may not happen at a future point, they’re not happening now. Yet she experiences them as if they’re real, causing her anxiety to escalate. She continues to listen to the news throughout the day. By the time she goes to bed, her spinning thoughts keep her from falling asleep.

Jenny, on the other hand, has learned to train her mind in present moment awareness. She meditates upon awakening in the morning, noticing the coolness of the air as she inhales, and its warmth as she exhales. Any time her attention wanders, she gently shifts it back to awareness of her breath. When she showers, she notices the smell of her scented soap. As she eats breakfast, she notices the tastes and textures of her food. She walks her dog and listens to the sound of his nails clicking on the pavement. She smiles as she notices his wagging tail.

At lunchtime she turns on the television to get updates on the pandemic. She’s careful to limit her exposure to the news. She’s devastated by what she hears, but tries to practice “not knowing,” a technique I’ll discuss later. Jenny’s present moment awareness helps her stay centered and grounded during the pandemic.

Nineteenth-century Indian mystic, Swami Vivekananda, wrote of the rampant activity of the mind, comparing it to that of a “restless monkey that becomes drunk and then is bitten by a scorpion.” But the good news is that the brain has neuroplasticity, or the ability to form new neural pathways. You can actually train yourself to become more mindful by engaging in practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi — and also by integrating mindful practices into your daily life.

You can practice mindfulness anytime by noticing what you experience with your five senses. As Jenny did, take every opportunity to pay attention. Whenever your mind starts churning out the what ifs, try to shift to present moment awareness, whether it’s by noticing the temperature of water on your skin, the wagging tail of your dog, or simply your next breath.

Step Two: Relax Your Body

Right now we’re living in the midst of a global pandemic. The impulse may be to think “this shouldn’t be happening now.” Yet, pushing away the reality of the situation creates resistance — and stress. When mental stress arises, physical stress likely follows. Muscles tighten, breathing becomes restricted, and soon the physical and mental responses team up, wielding much power.

You can develop awareness to “untangle” mental tension from muscular tension, since they’re two distinct responses. The stress response loses some of its power when these two forces are not teamed together.

Release the stress in your body first, since it’s easier to regulate your body than to regulate your mind. For example, your body will walk more slowly if you tell it to, but telling your mind to think more slowly is unlikely to be effective.

Learning to become aware of physical tension can help you release it. One technique is to practice a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. This exercise can be practiced sitting up or lying down, starting with your feet and working your way up to the top of your head. Hold each muscle group tightly for about five seconds, and then release it completely. Be careful not to strain. Notice how the muscle feels tensed vs. what it feels like relaxed. Move on to the next muscle group until you’ve relaxed your entire body. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the feeling of your muscles. Take as much time as needed. You can also practice this exercise to help you fall asleep at night.

Step Three: Shift Your Attention

Consider interrupting the cycle of thoughts that can amplify your stress. This doesn’t mean you should deny the way you’re feeling; however, it means you can reduce stress by shifting your focus.

For instance, let’s say you’re thinking negative thoughts such as, “I can’t stand being stuck at home. I hate being so cut off from my family and friends.” See if you can shift your attention to positive aspects of the situation, such as “I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head. I’m grateful for the technology to video chat with loved ones.”

You can also shift your attention away from cycling thoughts by bringing awareness to your body. For example, you can interrupt your thoughts by shifting your attention to the soles of your feet. This can be practiced while walking around your home or while walking outdoors. Simply notice the feeling of each foot as it connects with the ground. Each time your attention wanders (which might be every second or two!) gently bring your awareness back to your feet.

Step Four: Practice “Not Knowing”

If you tend to imagine negative scenarios, an effective technique to help reduce stress is to practice “not knowing.” By not imagining outcomes based on fears, you can remain open and present to what is. Of course, we’d all like to know when the coronavirus pandemic will pass, but even the experts can’t tell us.

The practice of “not knowing” helps you accept the uncertainty of the future without getting caught in anxieties about it. To practice, close your eyes for a moment, and imagine a time — from the past, the present, or the future — where you simply don’t know, or didn’t know. How does it feel not to know the outcome? What is that experience like for you in mind and body? Can you notice thoughts, feelings, and any physical sensations? Are you comfortable with not knowing, or is there a desire for a predictable result?

Practicing “not knowing” in the current pandemic can help reduce your stress. Simply notice when you worry about the future. At that moment, rather than filling in the uncertainty with an imagined outcome, just tell yourself “I don’t know.” Will this last for months? I don’t know, and it’s ok not to know. Will I get sick, or will my loved ones get sick? I don’t know, and it’s ok not to know. This practice can help your anxieties lose some of their power, as you realize that your mind may be creating stories about what’s to come — when in reality, you simply don’t know.

It can be freeing to notice your thoughts without getting lost in them — and instead, live in the immediacy of the present moment. As of today, the present moment reveals that the coronavirus issue has changed life as we know it. Beyond that, we simply don’t know what’s next.

Step Five: Choose Strategies

Mindfulness can help you recognize that you can’t control what’s happening outside yourself; you can only control your response. Choosing your strategies ahead of time can help you meet the challenges of this pandemic.

For me, meditation is a key strategy for maintaining a calm center. One popular meditation technique is to gently rest your attention on your breath. Simply sit quietly and notice the feeling of your breath moving in and out of your body, noticing your chest rising and falling with each inhale and exhale. You can even silently repeat words to help support this practice, saying one word on your inhale and another on your exhale. Examples are rising/falling, calm/present, and peace/release. It’s important to chose an amount of practice time that’s manageable; meditating for three minutes will bring more benefits than not meditating at all.

I’ll also mention some of my other favorite practices. I love listening to chanting music by Krishna Das, enjoying candlelit rooms, and taking warm baths — and sometimes all three at the same time! Yoga offers a direct path to present moment awareness as you notice the movements of your body. Sleeping or resting under a weighted blanket can be very soothing; it’s like somebody is giving you a big hug. Walking on outdoor labyrinths is a wonderfully calming and centering experience for many people. You can find labyrinths around the world simply by googling “world-wide labyrinth locator.”

In uncertain times it’s especially important to respond by taking optimum care of yourself to remain anchored amidst the waves of uncertainty. Eat heathy foods. Exercise your body. As the ancient poet Kabir said, “Be strong then, and enter into your own body; there you have a solid place for your feet. Think about it carefully! Don’t go off somewhere else! …just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things, and stand firm in that which you are.”

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Step One: Stay Calm

If you’re contacting someone to offer your support, it’s important not to transmit your anxieties to them. Try to reach out when you’re centered, rather than reaching out when you’re stressed.

A friend told me he realized he called his elderly mother three times a day, not to make her feel less isolated, but so he’d feel less anxious about her being alone. When he recognized his motivation, he reduced his calls to once or twice a day.

Now, prior to his phone call, he arranges his personal space so it’s tranquil. Relaxing music plays softly in the background. A diffuser filled with essential lavender oil emits a calming scent. The smooth stone he holds in his hand helps relax him. His once or twice daily phone calls have become a centering ritual for both of them.

Step Two: Be Present

Try to be fully present when you talk to people on the phone or video chat. Your presence can help them be more at ease. By releasing your agenda, your judgments, and your distracting thoughts, you can bring your attention to the here and now. Be with your people as if they’re the only ones who exist in this moment. If your attention wanders away from the present, gently bring it back, again and again.

I remember going to a live talk by meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh. He spoke at a sold-out event at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. You could have heard a pin drop during his entire presentation. The audience was captivated by his energy — it was as if he enveloped us in his complete present moment awareness.

Consider sitting for a few minutes to center yourself before reaching out to family members, friends, and colleagues. Physical items such as plants or artwork can remind you to be present while you make your calls. Conversely, the removal of items can also help, so you can sit in a space free from distractions.

Step Three: Listen Mindfully

Many people are experiencing high anxiety due to the pandemic. Simply by listening to them, you can be a pillar of support. Remember not to try to fix things for them. Just being a compassionate listener can go a long way toward relieving people’s stress.

Try to focus fully on the speaker. People often think about how they’ll respond while the other person is talking. This causes them to get distracted from hearing the speaker’s message. Try to listen closely, paraphrasing the speaker’s words back to them to show you were truly paying attention.

The simple act of listening says I care about you. I value you. What you have to say is important to me. Mindful listening can be as simple as forgetting about yourself and bringing your full and complete attention to someone else.

Step Four: Choose Words Carefully

When you reach out to someone, you’re bringing them your energy. While you don’t want to ignore the enormity of the challenges the coronavirus brings, be mindful that you’re not acting as a messenger of “gloom and doom.” Words have so much power, and it’s important to chose your words wisely and carefully.

A tremendous inspiration for me are the writings of Paramhansa Yogananda. Here’s what he says about words: “Words that are saturated with sincerity, conviction, faith, and intuition are like vibration bombs, which can explode the rocks of difficulties and create the change desired.”

Consider pausing before speaking and choosing words that have a positive effect on others, especially at this most challenging of times. This doesn’t mean to gloss over the difficulties that people face, but it does mean to be mindful of the energy that your words carry.

Step Five: Help People Connect

Those who live alone may be feeling especially isolated. Be mindful of people’s need to connect. For example, one woman emailed an elderly neighbor a short YouTube tutorial on how to use group video chat, so the neighbor could enjoy a virtual meal with family. Another emailed a grieving friend poetry from his favorite poet, so he could connect with words to help ease his pain.

Many people are finding ways to connect with their communities. If you’re able to run errands for self-isolating neighbors, consider posting your availability on the neighborhood Listserv. Two children donated their tooth fairy money to buy tissues for seniors. A retired professional cellist regularly gives concerts from her front porch, as her audience practices social distancing.

We’re all in this situation together, since we’re all part of the interconnected web of life. And we can only hope that it’s our interconnectedness, rather than our social distancing, that helps pull us through this crisis. Meanwhile, a positive outcome of this pandemic is that people worldwide are tapping into their capacity to connect with others.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

One of the best resources is right outside people’s front door: nature. You can become mindful simply by noticing the color of flowers, the feel of soft grass under your feet, or the sounds of birds chirping. Even if you live in a city, you can typically find trees or parks to enjoy. The expression “Take time to smell the roses” is really about pausing and being mindful. A wonderful book to help you connect with the spirituality of nature is Earth’s Echo by Robert Hamma.

Free meditation apps, such as Insight Timer, are great resources. And I’ve designed my book (Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind) and podcast (Mindful 180) to be resources for those who want to learn to meditate and become more mindful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation given by Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. She said, “Each person should be a flea for justice. You might wonder what can one person do, but together we can all move the big dog.” Her words were so empowering. They unlocked within me the impulse to bring forth my best effort, no longer doubting my ability to affect change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think the highest good can come from people focusing on loving and being loved. Langston Hughes said it perfectly in his poem, Motto. He wrote: “My motto, as I live and learn, is: Dig And Be Dug In Return.” If only everyone lived in alignment with these words, the world would be a better place.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Right now I’m focusing on creating weekly episodes of the Mindful 180 podcast. Readers can listen on their favorite app or on my website,

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you so much!

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