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What Does Mindfulness Look Like in Practice and Real Life?

A Personal Perspective: How to shift out of our heads and back into our lives.

Key points

  • We can be easily swept away by our emotions and the inner chatter of our mind to the point that it negatively impacts our day and well-being.
  • Through mindfulness, we can notice when we are lost in our mind and missing out on what we have in the present.
  • It is never too early and never too late to start learning and cultivating a mindful way of being.

"Look, it’s snowing!"

What happens when we hear this?

We stop whatever we are doing and saying. We pause and look. Our attention becomes present. We may still have thoughts and emotions running through our minds and bodies, but at that moment, judgment is suspended because we are observing with openness and curiosity.

This is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is spoken about frequently nowadays, though I still repeatedly discover that many people are not aware of how mindfulness applies in their life. For some, the practice of mindfulness ends with their 10-minute meditation practice on their mindfulness app. In this post, I am going to share a story of how mindful practices translate into real life and can pave the way for a mindful way of living.

The story

This morning, I was totally caught in my head and my mood—I was tired and cold and just fed up. I had to go out for an appointment, and I really didn’t want to walk for 30 minutes in the cold and back. About three times, I nearly didn’t. Then the disciplined and self-caring part of me pushed me out of the door because I knew that this appointment would be healthy for my body.

Of course, by the time I left, I was 10 minutes late already, so I quickly walked through the cold and tried not to slip on the ice. I was still caught in my head, grumbling and complaining.

I know that this is usually a prompt for my inner critic. It loves stepping in during moments like this to point out how things are always negative and how there is something wrong with me. It loves to make me feel guilty for grumbling about these petty problems when there is much bigger suffering in the world.

I got lost in this for a bit longer, but then I suddenly looked down, and I saw the snow. Mind you, the snow was there all along, but I wasn’t actually looking at it—I had been looking through it as I was more focused on what my mind was chattering about.

The snow literally stopped me in my tracks. I am a very visual person, and the pure whiteness of the snow caught my attention. It looked so beautiful at that moment that, in a split second, it brought me crashing back down to Earth.

Then, like dominoes, it all started to change very quickly. I started to see the sunshine against the snow; I started to feel the sun; I started to hear the crunching of the snow. I still felt cold, but the negative judgment that it was uncomfortable dropped. I was still late, but it was OK, and I knew that I could apologize and still make the most of a short appointment because it was important. The rest of my walk and my walk back home were totally different experiences. My heart felt more open, and my mind felt calmer, even though my body still felt cold!

The skills

I wanted to share this story because this is an example of how we can:

  • Recognize when we are caught in our thoughts and emotions
  • Pause
  • Shift and refocus our attention
  • Become mindful and wake up to what is happening in the present moment without judging it
  • Snap out of our heads and get back into living and experiencing what is right in front of us
  • Have difficult moments, but know that they pass and are not permanent and do not have to define the rest of our day and identity
  • Feel an uncomfortable emotion and, in the next moment, experience a good emotion and realize that they can co-exist together.
  • Hold all of the internal workings of our thoughts and emotions lightly and with wisdom and compassion; this can help us go about our day and activities with less of an internal struggle

When we go about our lives automatically with our heads down, carrying on with the rush and demands of life or getting caught up in believing what our mind is saying, we miss out on so much. It would have been a loss for me to miss out on the beauty of nature around me because this is something that I value greatly as a person.

Yet it happens to all of us and in many different circumstances. Have you had experiences when you are so annoyed by an argument or preoccupied with something at work that you are only half listening when someone is talking to you, or you are mindlessly eating your dinner? This is just what it means to live with a sophisticated yet tricky human mind that creates very convincing stories that hook us in and that we start believing as though it’s the best Netflix series.

It is never too late and never too early to start

Learning psychological skills like mindfulness and compassion is important. They can help us manage the chatter in our minds and regulate our emotions. We can learn how to move through challenging moments more effectively without ignoring them or becoming consumed by them. We can learn to go about the rest of the day with more openness and ease, taking our inner chatter and emotions on the ride.

Developing these skills is not necessarily easy or straightforward, and we may experience many barriers along the way. In fact, half the time, I am not mindful even though I know the theory, and I help people with this in therapy every single day. But I am grateful for the mindfulness and compassionate skills I still practice even when it is hard, for the inspiration I get from clients and mentors who are practicing too and experiencing the benefit of it, for the effort I put into myself, and for the wisdom I continue to gain.

The invitation

This is an invitation to all of us to pause and get curious about ourselves.

  • Do you notice when you get caught up in the stories your mind is telling you or when you are so wrapped up in your emotions that you cannot see beyond them?
  • What helps you snap back into your life so that you can connect more fully with what you are doing, with the places that you are in, and with the people who are around you?
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