Mindfulness: The Simple (but not easy) Act of Paying Attention

What is mindfulness? It might be easier to think of times when we are not mindful. Driving home after teaching several classes back to back at the studio, pulling into your driveway and realizing you can’t remember the trip home. You were too caught up wondering if that one student liked your class. Or perhaps you’re making breakfast and you catch yourself before you end up putting the cereal in the fridge and the milk in the cupboard. Your mind was busy rehearsing what you had programmed for the private clients you have scheduled for the day.

All of these are instances in which we are not mindful. Your brain likes to keep itself busy: planning, rehearsing, reflecting. And if you’re like me, your mind likes to keep itself busy ruminating about the past and replaying moments we wish we could forget, or worrying about the future and becoming anxious over things that have yet to happen (or might not ever happen).

So what is mindfulness? A quick Google search reveals that mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of some,” and “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.”

I prefer Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition,

Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

This definition has three main points to remember about mindfulness. Mindfulness is focused attention that requires intentional effort. Mindfulness is directed at the present moment, not the past, not the future, and sometimes the present moment is full of a lot to process. This is why we also must remember that practicing mindfulness requires us to remain non-judgemental. We really can be our harshest critics, but this does not serves us here. Getting frustrated with yourself for not being able to focus will not help you focus more. Some days practicing mindfulness is harder than others. Accepting how we are feeling, and how busy our minds are in this current moment, is a part of the practice.

Try it out for yourself:

The first part of practicing mindfulness is paying attention. Sit back and notice:

What can you see? What can you hear? What can you feel? Can you smell or taste anything?

Set a timer for as long as feels comfortable and practice paying attention to this one moment in time. Start with 30 seconds, then try one minute, or maybe five minutes. Increase or decrease the amount of time as long as you are able to stay focused on the task.

Try to practice mindfulness with a gentle awareness, remaining open to changes, after-all each moment is ever-changing into the next. Even within 30 seconds you may notice many different things happening and become distracted. This is totally normal. If this happens, gently nudge your attention back to the present.

Share your thoughts:

What does mindfulness mean to you? When you practiced mindful awareness even for 30 seconds, what did you notice? Were you surprised by how much was going on in one moment? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments : )

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: