Take a moment to breathe. It does not matter where you are, whether you are sitting down or on a plane, just take a deep breath. We seem to neglect one of the most fundamental and vital pieces of living. The concept of mindfulness is often affiliated with Zen meditation and Buddhism, but the thing is, it can be applied in our everyday life. You do not have to be spiritual to be mindful; all it takes is patience and commitment.
The definition of mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” In all reality, the concept is truly simple. One thing people do incorrectly is they assume that there is some sort of immediate gratification or enlightenment derived from being aware. “As soon as I start to focus on my surroundings, I will be wise” is a misconstrued belief. While it is not incredibly common, mindfulness is not a way of gaining wisdom, rather it is a new way of experiencing everyday life. Luckily for those of us that have stress-filled lives, mindfulness can be done anywhere at anytime. If you are at work, if you are napping, or even if you are on the toilet, mindfulness can be applied.
So what exactly does mindfulness entail? There is a principle in Daoism called Wu Wei. Translated, it pretty much means non-doing. While it seems a bit contradictory, non-doing is an important constituent in being conscious. Wu Wei is not about doing nothing. Frankly, it is a little more than that. Non-doing is about relaxing into the moment. Relaxation is key here; all one’s attention should not be focused on what is in front of you or on that one itch you have, it is about acknowledging everything around you. Pretend like reality is a picture snapped by a camera. You, the viewer, are examining this picture as it really is. But you should not just look at this picture. Remember to be constantly using your five senses (contrary to popular belief, there are tens of senses)! Listen to whatever is going on. Feel the pressure you exert on whatever is beneath you. Smell the air. When I say that mindfulness is applicable anywhere, it even includes eating: your gustatory, aural, oral, tactile, and optic senses can be activated and brought into the moment as you do so. The main idea, if you recall, is to be in the moment. To be present.
We constantly judge things. Whenever we see a person or a thing, we seem to filter it immediately. Thoughts are constantly passing through our minds. Always remain objective, do not let personal opinions cloud your sight. Instead of noting the color of something or noticing if something does not look right, simply see it for how it is. That chair that keeps bothering you in the corner is neither ugly nor beautiful. It is a chair. Appreciate things for how they are. Be thankful for being able to be here. Now. In the present. Accept the gift of living. Too much time is spent on that which has passed or on that which has yet to come. Life is too short, so live now. Obviously, it can be boring and you can find yourself drifting off. Everything is constantly moving. Your breathing is constant, though. A consistent drive of in then out. Focusing on the breath is what keeps us bound and in the moment. Again, use your senses to examine the breathing. Do not be subjective though, feel it as it is. Not everything is under our control, and we have to learn that the hard way. Sometimes you just have to let things happen. Sometimes you just have to do not-doing. As we do this, we must inquire about ourselves. Part of mindfulness is reflecting about ourselves. What do I want to get out of this? Where do I want to go? Am I awake? Mindfulness is not a state, it is a path. The journey towards awakening is up to us as individuals.
The idea of “me”,”I,” and “mine” frequently finds its way into our thought process. When it comes to mindfulness, this is to be avoided. It has been proven that the world does not revolve around us. The course of history is not going to take a rain check just for your needs alone. You are not always in control of fate, but what you are in control of is yourself. And while you may not have control over what happens, you may discover that everything in this world is part of a cycle. Wholeness is another key aspect. Connect yourself with those around you. To explain in Jon-Kabat Zinn’s terms, life is like climbing up a mountain. We experience the world as we go up. Once we reach the top, we have a clear view of our surroundings. Then, we must journey down. In the fragility of life, there is only so much we can do. One thing most meditators like to do is meditate on an emotion. For example, you can meditate on the concepts of anger, generosity, compassion, joy, and equanimity just to name a few.
Life is a one-time thing; do not waste it. The time we spend dwelling on things we cannot change will not benefit us. All the time we spend texting and browsing the internet cannot be brought back. If there is one thing we can do, it is to be present. We must be mindful. No more seeing life in black and white. From now on we must experience the world for how it is. Nature is beautiful and so is life. There is still time to live life freely and without judgement. All it takes is patience and commitment. Carpe diem!
For further reading: Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon-Kabat Zinn (1994)
Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham (2012)
1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
Eastern Philosophy: Wu Wei