Do you ever find yourself thinking about the past or future, missing out on what’s happening now? How often do you live on automatic pilot, rushing through one activity to the next out of habit? Have you ever said or done something you later regretted?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, how satisfactory is your experience of life? In other words, is your life working for you? This last question is critical for most people I come across at Skill for Mind who are seeking alternatives to life on a hamster wheel. Not only is it stressful, but it’s not really satisfying. Health and relationships may suffer, as may work performance.
Mindfulness is an alternative that can have a powerful and transformative effect because our mind creates our world and how we experience life. That may sound like a radical statement, so stay with me for a moment and try this brief experiment.
Take a piece of fruit and place it about 10 feet away from you so you can only see it. Then, imagine what it’s like to eat that piece of fruit. See if you can really bring the experience to life.
Now, take that piece of fruit in your hand and begin by placing it in the palm of your hand. Feel its texture and the weight against your skin. Explore the fruit’s surface with your fingers. Is it smooth, bumpy, cool, warm?
Look at the fruit as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Notice the color, light, shape and anything else you can see. Now, smell the fruit and take in the scent. Finally, start eating the fruit slowly, noticing what it’s like to take the first bite in your mouth and really taste the fruit. What do subsequent bites taste like? Notice what it feels like to swallow the fruit, and even if there’s an after taste.
What was that experience like and what did you notice? How did it differ from the experience of just thinking about eating the fruit? I’d venture to guess the two experiences were vastly different. Most people find the second experience more vivid, rich, and pleasant (unless you don’t like the particular fruit you chose!). It’s a good example of how you can actually change your experience through the quality of your attention.
From a very young age, many of us were admonished to pay attention. However, very few are taught how to pay attention. Mindfulness training fills this gap. Through simple practices, our brains re-wire to become more focused and present. Most importantly, through consistent practice, it’s possible to actually change our experience and choose the life we want to live. Imagine that kind of power and freedom! This is the radical nature of mindfulness.
The practices can begin very simply with the breath and sounds. Take a few deep breaths throughout the day to generate more calm, presence and stability through life’s ups and downs. Breathe down into the belly and extend the exhalation just a bit longer than the inhalation without any strain. Enjoy the effects as you move on with your day. Set a timer as a reminder to breathe throughout the day, especially in the beginning as you’re developing new habits.
Likewise, find times throughout the day to simply listen to sounds for one minute. Try not to get lost in thoughts about the sounds. If you find yourself getting caught up in a story about sound, just notice that, and return to hearing. Simply notice sound as sound and how pleasant it can feel to be present to sounds as they come and go.
If you’re interested in deepening the practice, it can be very supportive and beneficial to work with a mindfulness trainer and connect with other people who are interested in mindfulness. Mindfulness is a journey where the goal is the path. After some time on the journey, you might find yourself looking around and noticing how much the landscape has changed. Change your mind, change your world!
Vicki Manidha Oyadomari is the founding director of Skill for Mind and a senior consultant with Potential Project. She integrates mindfulness in coaching, leadership development, and continuous improvement.