The Practice of Mindfulness

Three tips for living a life that is more grateful and in the moment.

Posted Nov 21, 2017

In a time where we are constantly bombarded with information and demands for our attention, the practice of mindfulness calls out to us as a goal for soothing cluttered lifestyles. According to a recent article in the journal Developmental Psychology [1]mindfulness can be defined as "paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally." When you make the conscious decision to notice where you are, in the present moment, how you are feeling, and take in your surroundings with gratitude, you are given a gift. That gift is the ability to recognize that, as Dr. Wayne Dyer said, "“You have everything you need for complete peace and total happiness right now.” [2] The everyday worries of the world - your bills, your troubled relationships, the upstairs window that needs fixing - can be set aside and you can realize that the gift of life, and the blessings you have experienced, are yours to enjoy. 

It's so easy for life to float by without awareness, for the days to be repetitions of "mindless habit and automaticity." Just today, as I was walking to work, I was lost in thought about all of the things I had to do today, listing them, trying to figure out how I would get them all done. When my mind realized that one of the things on that to-do list was to write about mindfulness, I looked up and noticed the beautiful temperature, the rich blue of the sky, and the frenetic meanderings of a squirrel, and I laughed. How ironic, to be lost in thought, missing out on the opportunity to take in my environment and just be grateful, when I was about to advise others to do exactly that!

How fear can trap us in our thoughts

The opposite of mindfulness is living inside of our fears. Our minds can unknowingly get trapped in a realm of anxiety. There are so many things that could happen and if we get distracted by the possibility that they might occur, we are no longer living in the moment. Instead, we are living in a world that our mind is creating, where everything bad that could happen has already occurred.

The vast majority of the world's religions encourage us to "fear not." A great Hindu philosopher, named Krishnamurti, wrote something that changed my life. [3] Krishnamurti made me realize that almost everytime I am anxious or afraid, I am perseverating on things that haven't happened yet. I may be worried that I won't do well in my next tennis match. I might be thinking about what I'll do if my child doesn't get accepted to some program. I might start freaking out about a member of my family dying, and how terrible that would be. And then, when I can be mindful about my thoughts, my emotions, and my current reality, I can realize that I haven't played the tennis match, my child hasn't applied to the program yet, and my family is safe and sound. 

Developing the ability to be increasingly in a "zone of potential awareness," where you can reflect on your thoughts and feelings without judging them as wrong, and where you are more apt to notice where you are in this current moment, is the heart of mindfulness. I value a life of mindfulness and have experienced moments where being in this zone brings peace of mind and increased well-being.

Three practical tips for being more mindful:

I wish to practice the art of mindfulness and, in so doing, model it for my own children. In the spirit of teaching what I myself also need to learn, here are some guidelines for how to live a more mindful life:

1) The art of listening is the art of paying full attention when your child is speaking. If your child wants to say something, and you cannot currently give her that level of attention, tell her so, and let her know when you can listen. "Carla, I am in the middle of something. Can you give me three minutes to finish this email, and then I'll listen to what you have to say?" And then, stop what you are doing in three minutes: "Thank you, Carla. I'm done. So, what did you want to tell me?" 

Too often, someone is speaking to us and our mind is busy thinking about other things: the laundry, the shopping list, how tired we are. When we can be mindful about the fact that we are actually not even in the room where this conversation is taking place, we can recenter our attention on the conversation and have the opportunity to reconnect with the present. Our children will best learn how to be good conversationalists when we show them how by listening to them when they are speaking with us.

2) An old friend of mine once taught me that feelings were not wrong or right. It was how we reacted to our feelings that often got us into trouble. Have you ever been so enmeshed in jealousy or anger that you acted in ways that were outside of your normal values? There may have even been a part of you, in the back of your mind, saying, "This is not a good idea." The ability to recognize your emotions and then look at them, acknowledge them, and delay taking action until they settle down, can serve you well in times of distress. 

When we engage in conversations about our feelings, and how we intend to behave in accordance with our values, rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to our more immediate emotions, we can teach our children the important skill of emotional regulation.

3) Life is filled with chances to be grateful for what surrounds us—if we are aware enough to notice. The trick is to try to be where you are. When you're walking to work, get out of your mind, and focus on your sensations. What do you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste? Do you see the faces of the numerous people around you? There is a sky above your head. What does it look like? There are buildings to your right and left. Can you appreciate the detail work that went into making them stand?

 "Just pretend you're in the South of France."

A long time ago, I heard a saying that I use when I want to practice being in my body and experience the inspiration that I feel when I am present and alive right now. It was, "Just pretend you're in the South of France." I remember reading that saying, and thinking about how, when I'm visiting a new place, I'm looking around and really taking in the new sights, really enjoying the different foods, and authentically appreciating these strangers who are living their lives in this different place. In other words, when I'm somewhere new, I am mindful, paying attention, living in the present.

Alternately, when I'm just walking around my hometown, I've seen the trees lining the main street hundreds of times—boring! I've already walked around the local park and talked to my children as we threw stones in the lake on dozens of occasions. Yawn! My family and I have been past the monuments in the center of town on a weekly basis for years. Whatever. But if I wasn't from here and I was seeing those things for the first time, I might be enchanted and welled up with appreciation and wonder. 

I can guarantee that you have not processed the sights and sounds that make up your everyday life in their entirety. There are details about your immediate world that you have not noticed and specific experiences you can have with a different perspective because you are a person who is older and differently alive than you were the last time you truly opened yourself to them.

A good part of parenting is building memories. Don't let your family be just another sight to which you have habituated. Get out there and experience life anew like it's the south of France, perhaps. Teach your children and yourself how to live life attentively, intentionally, and gratefully. 

Be mindful of this life you are living. It is going to happen, day by day, until it expires, regardless of how you approach it. Might as well enjoy the ride. 


[1] Roeser, R. W., & Eccles, J. S. (2015). Mindfulness and compassion in human development: introduction to the special section. Developmental psychology, 51(1), 1-9.


[3] Krishnamurti, J., & Rajagopal, D. (1989). Think on these things. HarperPerennial.