I was recently asked by a friend to explain the concept of “mindfulness.” I’ll illustrate mindfulness with a story I think you’ll enjoy. But first, here’s how Jon Kabat-Zinn, author, teacher, and meditation guru, describes it: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
When I asked my colleague, Lisa, from the Center for Mindful Living here in Chattanooga, she described mindfulness as “being present with awareness and kindness…with all our attention.”
I believe that mindfulness is about living in the here and now, so we don’t miss the unfolding of our experiences. This isn’t something limited to only certain people, i.e., meditators or yoga practitioners. Nor is it reserved for only the big, peak, memory-making moments in life. You can be in the mindfulness zone anytime, anywhere.
Here’s a story about simple mindfulness in everyday life that I want to share with you, involving—as it often does—the help of my wonderpup, Betty Lou. Most of you already know Betty from earlier columns. She’s my sweet, goofy Boston Terrier, now ten years old, and a bit more mellow, but still offering up the unconditional love and slobbering kisses she always has.
When Betty was younger and we’d go for long hikes, I would sometimes find my mind drifting to, for instance, which movie I might want to see that weekend, or to some upcoming social event, or what’s for dinner. When I realized I was doing this, it became clear to me that by thinking of the future I was missing the present. What I really enjoyed was gabbing with Betty (despite what the neighbors might think about this guy talking to his dog), exploring new routes in the park or neighborhood, and enjoying the breeze, the scenery, the sunshine. In short, I wanted to be tuned in, not on a tangent of thoughts taking me away from the experience. So I learned to leave the cell phone at home, focused my energy on the task at hand, and when I walked with her, I walked with her. I was there. Present. Tuned in. And much happier.
Mission accomplished, right?
Well, I’ve got to tell you, we’ve recently added a rescue pup to the family, Lily Pad. She’s a tiny, one-year-old, vibrating bundle of energy, and she looks exactly like a mini Betty. Like I left Betty in the dryer too long. But that’s where their similarity ends.
Lily’s youthful energy is…how shall I put this?...like a pinball on speed. The Bullet Train of Chattanooga. When we’re walking (with leashes) she’s a kite in a hurricane. You get the idea. So while Betty gracefully picks her way along, Lily is zigging and zagging from one side of the street to the other. I spend a lot of time with arms flailing, keeping us all from getting tripped up in the leashes. (I can’t help but think of those classic “I Love Lucy” episodes where you know that, eventually, things will go horribly, if humorously, wrong.) We’re a sight, and now the neighbors really have something to talk about.
Needless to say, if my thoughts dare wander to this weekend’s movie, or what’s for dinner, or anywhere other than being fully present, forget it. We’ll be a tangled heap. With both Betty and Lily in tow, it’s “mindfulness or bust.”
Here’s the take-away: If you are mindful with the small things you do all day long—from enjoying your morning coffee while gazing out the window, to working out at the gym; from driving, to reading, to talking with a friend—over time you’ll notice benefits in all parts of your life. Learning to be mindful helps you to be calmer and more centered, helps free you from judgment of yourself and others. When you are present, paying attention, living in the here and now, you cannot simultaneously feel anxious about the future, or guilty about the past. You are fully alive. You come to realize that each moment is your life. This is living, right now.
So take a nice, long, deep breath. If you’re going to walk the dog, then walk … the … dog. If you’re going to eat that pie, then eat the heck out of that pie and enjoy every bite. Experiment with single-tasking, as opposed to multi-tasking, and observe how that feels. See if you can give yourself permission to be in the zone, to be tuned in, right here, right now.
Until next time: “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
— Marianne Williamson
Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, author, minister, and educator in private practice in Chattanooga. Contact him at DrRPH.com, visit his wellness center at WellNestChattanooga.com and follow his daily inspirations on Twitter: @DrRickWellNest.