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The Basics of Mindfulness

What is mindfulness? Why does it matter? How can you incorporate mindfulness in your life? Get answers to all your questions in this read.

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Amidst the ongoing pandemic, you may have heard many people talking about the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that can help you if you find yourself juggling a million things at once or feel like you have too much on your plate. When you are stressed, worried, or unhappy, mindfulness can put your mind at ease.

Being mindful essentially means being fully aware of what is happening right now, in the present, without any judgment. Studies show that people who are mindful are happier and have a greater sense of well-being than others. If you practise mindfulness, you are likely to be more satisfied in life and are less likely to experience emotional distress. 

As the world deals with the health crisis, things can seem out of control. In this situation especially, mindfulness can instill a sense of control and help you manage your emotions better. Being mindful can also help you feel more connected with others, improving your social support system — which in turn can make you happier.

Mindfulness has many benefits, but it is a difficult skill to build. Everyone has an inborn ability to be mindful, but for some, this ability is more strongly developed. This means that many of us might struggle with even simple meditation, while others might find it rather easy to practise. 

If you’re in the first category, don’t worry! Here are some simple ways in which you can learn to be more mindful:

Observe

Mindfulness involves using your senses to focus on your surroundings. This is one of the core skills of mindfulness — it can be practised anytime by simply tuning your attention to what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. Having this awareness can ground you to the present moment and help you feel mindful.  

Mindfulness also involves observing your thoughts and feelings, which can help you develop an awareness about yourself. This, in turn, will enable you to distance yourself from your thoughts and feelings, so that you can deal with them better. Awareness is the first step to change; becoming aware can help you break free from negative thinking patterns, thus allowing you to direct your attention to more positive thoughts and feelings.

Be clear

In addition to developing an awareness of your thoughts and feelings, it’s important to attain clarity about yourself, your needs, goals and desires. When you learn to look at your thoughts and feelings deeply and clearly, you are more ‘in sync’ with yourself — and can easily attain mindfulness. One way you can understand your thoughts and feelings better is by constantly asking yourself “why.” 

Let’s say that you’re feeling scared amidst the health crisis. Ask yourself why you are feeling scared. You may realise that you are feeling scared because many people are falling sick. Ask yourself why this scares you. You may identify that you fear that your loved ones may also fall sick. Again ask yourself why this scares you and you will realise it’s because you don’t want to lose the people you love and end up alone. Having this awareness and clarity in itself can be very empowering.

Accept

When you have negative thoughts or feelings, you may try to avoid or deny them. This can be an unhealthy way of coping in the long run. Mindfulness, on the other hand, requires that you intentionally focus on such thoughts or feelings as this in itself can reduce the distress you are experiencing. 

To put this into practise, simply close your eyes and stay with your thoughts. You may recognise a variety of thoughts cluttering your mind. Identify whatever thoughts come to your mind and acknowledge them explicitly. Tell yourself, “This is a thought I am having.” Spend some time meditating upon your thoughts. If you get distracted, that’s alright. Bring your attention back and focus on the thoughts again. 

When it comes to emotions, a mindful approach is to separate yourself from your feelings and view them from a distance. You can begin doing this by avoiding labels such as good or bad for your emotions. Remind yourself that all emotions are valid and that it’s OK to feel what you are feeling. By accepting your thoughts or feelings, instead of trying to fight them, you are likely to feel at ease and experience a sense of calm.


Be non-judgmental

A non-judgmental attitude is the cornerstone of mindfulness. In order to be truly mindful and fully aware of the present moment, you need to look at yourself and what’s happening around you without any judgement. The moment you judge, you shut yourself off from a fresh, unbiased perspective of the situation, and this can prevent you from accepting what is happening. Having a sense of judgment can also cause distress, as you might feel bothered by your coloured perception of a situation. Instead, try letting things flow — let your “judgements” come and go, and don’t pay too much heed to them. This way, you can experience a greater sense of calm and well-being.


Be attentive

You have the power to control your attention. Mindfulness involves being attentive right now — that is, focussing on the present. If your mind wanders to someplace else — that is, if you find yourself feeling sad about something that already happened or worried about something that is yet to come – you simply have to bring your mind back to the present. Additionally, when you pay attention, you are also likely to remember things better. This is why mindfulness is associated with better memory. In fact, when you are present and attentive, you are better able to remember positive events and deal with stress effectively.

Mindfulness is not something you might achieve the first time you try it. It’s a skill that you can develop with hard work and regular practise. It might be difficult at first, but once you get a hang of it, you will find yourself feeling calmer and happier. As said by Thich Nhat Hanh, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”

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