Embracing the Imperfect Journey to Mindfulness
Everyone’s journey to mindfulness is different. You may have already started yours or you might be interested and not sure where to begin. Maybe you have no idea what mindfulness is. And that’s okay. Regardless of where you are in your journey, know that it’s meaningful, it’s messy, it’s beautiful and it’s difficult…but it’s important to just embrace it. Because at the end of the day, it’s worth it.
If you’re not familiar with mindfulness, let’s get you up to speed. Mindfulness is simply being aware. This can be of yourself, of others, and of your surroundings. It’s when you can focus your awareness on being present, while acknowledging your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. We have been taught to “do it all” and ignore our feelings and just push through. We’re busier than ever and we’re always focused on what’s ahead instead of what’s right now. Mindfulness challenges all of that.
Why be mindful?
What’s the point of being aware and present? What benefits does mindfulness bring? There are endless ways mindfulness can benefit you as a person, as a friend, as a significant other, as a family member, and as a colleague. But a few of our favorites include:
Self-reflection. Being mindful opens you up and gives you the opportunity to reflect more effectively. By doing so, you can really learn about yourself and why you are the way you are. Things start to click during this self-reflection phase. It may not happen immediately, so be patient. But the more you get to know yourself, the more you’ll be able to love yourself and have a better understanding of your relationships and interactions.
Acceptance. Being able to accept things as they are, especially what you cannot control, is extremely difficult. Accepting yourself and others doesn’t always come easy. But when you live a mindful life, you will be moving towards acceptance. And most importantly, acceptance without judgment. This goes for accepting yourself, accepting others and accepting situations. Instead of fighting what you cannot control, you can find peace with acceptance.
Increased connectivity. When you’re present, you can connect with others on a deeper level. You can truly enjoy the company you are with and the conversations. Being fully present with others is something other people will notice as well. Being mindful evokes a presence that you’re just drawn to. When you’re present and engaging, others will be more willing to invest their time with you.
Enjoy the little things. When we’re busy thinking of the next best thing or what we have to do later that day, we forget to stop and appreciate the little things. Whether it’s the warm sun, a beautiful building, a cute dog walking by…being present makes life’s small moments more meaningful and special.
Feel more gratitude. Just like how mindfulness helps you enjoy the little things more, it also gives us the opportunity to feel more gratitude. When we can appreciate what we have, no matter how big or small, we realize what’s truly important in life. It makes it just a little easier to not sweat the small stuff.
Where to begin?
First ask yourself why you want to start your journey to mindfulness. If you’ve already started, what brought you here? When you can figure out why you want to do something, it helps to get you to actually do it. Maybe you’re not happy with your career or you’re struggling with a relationship. Or you’re coming from a place of constant negativity and detachment. Perhaps you just feel run down want to start focusing on yourself. Any reason is a good reason. Your journey to mindfulness doesn’t have to come from a sad or frustrating state, but often times it does. And that’s okay. The important thing is that you’re taking the first step on a journey that will change your life for the better.
The mindful process
Now that you’re ready to practice mindfulness, there are several ways to begin the process. First, set aside some time, just as you would to exercise or make dinner. You can start with just a few minutes each day or each week. Take this time to turn inward and observe the present moment. How do you feel? Are you stressed? Happy? Excited? Scared? Regardless of how you feel, simply notice. And do so without judgment. Now return to the present moment, where you are right now. Feel the sensation of your feet on the floor or the sounds in the room. And if your mind gets carried away, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Recognize when your mind has wandered and gently bring it back to the present. You know what you just did there? You took the first step to mindfulness. This is also a great introduction to meditation.
There are many misconceptions about meditation, in particular, that it’s “turning your brain off.” In reality, it’s the opposite. It’s being hyper aware, (so your brain is very much “on”) but you focus on an anchor like the breath to keep you in the present moment. Meditation is one of those things that’s simple yet difficult. We have so much going on in our lives, how can we just sit and be present? It’s not called a “practice” for no reason. It takes time and patience. But don’t think you have to dedicate an hour a day to meditation in order to live a more mindful life. Start small with just a few minutes a day, or even a few minutes per week. There are several apps like Calm and Headspace that are great, especially for beginners.
If you have a hard time sitting still, there are other effective ways to practice mindfulness. There’s mindful walking, for example, which is not only a great way to get some exercise but also a great way to connect with nature and observe. However, this is something you might want to set aside more than a few minutes for, so you can really reap the benefits. If you have 15 minutes to spare and it’s a beautiful day, go for a walk. But don’t have a destination in mind. Walk and observe. What do you notice? What do the clouds look like in the sky? What does the air smell like? What sounds to you hear? What does the ground feel like as your feet hit the pavement? This goes back to being aware of and having a new appreciation for the little things. You never know what you’ll come across on your mindful walk.
The journey is a continuous process
It’s important to remind yourself that this process takes time, and it can be frustrating. This is especially true when it just seems like life is throwing everything at you all at once. It can be overwhelming. And we might think of it in two ways – 1) why bother practicing mindfulness when these terrible things are going to happen anyway? Or 2) can we learn from this or look at it from a different perspective? If you’re leaning towards two, the mindful mind is kicking in. It’s not the easy route to take, but the one that’s better for your mental health in the long run. Some days you’ll feel proud for not letting those negative thoughts control you. Other days you’ll feel defeated. Know that mindfulness requires constant adjustment, a lot of patience and a tremendous amount of self-love. We are all human. We are not perfect. But we are doing our best to live a more purposeful life, for both ourselves and the ones we love.
If you’d like to discuss your journey to mindfulness with a professional, schedule an appointment with one of our therapists today.
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