Forced to Slow Down: An Invitation to Mindful Living

We hear the word Mindfulness everywhere these days, but what does it really mean and why is it so important? The translation from Sanskrit is “that which is remembered.” This does not refer to the memories of our past, but rather a returning to awareness of the present moment which allows us to remember the essence of who we are and the truth of what is meaningful in life.

Our western culture is a culture of busyness, performance, and competition. We value productivity and doing. We are taught to define ourselves by our achievements and accomplishments. However, what neuroscience is now showing us is to be healthy, we need a balance between doing and being. Mindfulness is a way of being. It is an intentional way of living and being in relationships with each other and the world around us that invites awareness and helps us cultivate self-compassion, empathy, collaboration.

The Coronavirus pandemic has turned life as we know it upside down. We are being asked to stay home and practice social distancing. Our efforts toward staying well and not spreading the virus have forced us to slow down. This forced slowdown is an invitation to mindful living.  Jon Kabat-Zen’s 7 Attitudes of Mindfulness can help us reduce stress and anxiety; connect with ourselves, families, friends, and community in a more conscious way, and improve our overall health.  Practicing these 7 attitudes can transform your life.

  1. Non-judging: Become an impartial witness to your own experience. Be curious as curiosity is the opposite of judgment. Observing your experiences brings awareness to the constant stream of judgment and reaction to both internal and external experiences. We often get stuck and preoccupy ourselves with judging ourselves and others. Practice taking 10 minutes a day to observe your judgments and fixations as you are going about your daily life activities.
  2. Patience: The wisdom in accepting that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. When we practice patience, we do not rush through life trying to get to the next best moment. Instead, we stop trying to resist what is happening in the present moment. When we resist what is present, we often experience tension and frustration. Practicing patience helps us be calm and open to each moment of life and increases our appreciation of the incredible process of our lives. Practice taking notice of when you are feeling rushed or impatient. Pause. Take a couple of deep breaths and allow yourself to experience what is happening right now (without judgment!) Be curious about what wisdom you can glean from this moment in your life.
  3. Beginner’s Mind: Experiencing each moment in life with a beginner’s mind allows us to perceive and receive new possibilities that life has to offer. This attitude invites us to suspend our “knowing” and realize that each moment is brand new. We view each experience, even the ones we have had many times, as if it is the first time because it truly is! When we observe life in this way, intentionally experiencing each moment as a new and different moment, we can break free of past experiences and old patterns of thinking and doing that keep us stuck. Practice beginner’s mind by taking a walk or drive along your usual route and observe things that you have not noticed the other times you have traveled this path.
  4. Trust: Increasing trust in yourself is an essential part of personal growth and development. Trusting your intuition, knowing your beliefs and values, and engaging in life actions that reflect your authenticity even when you make mistakes increases your flexibility in responding to life’s unexpected twists and turns. Being able to adapt to the stress that change brings is critical to our health. Practice making a choice or taking an action based on what you believe is right for you. Notice what it feels like to trust yourself instead of relying on external factors or opinions.
  5. Non-striving. Meditation has no other goal than being yourself, and the irony is that you already are. If we can resist the urge to do in order to become the person we think we should be and instead know and accept who we are in each present moment, our goals and aspirations are achieved effortlessly. By stepping back and not striving, we are free to be who we are. Practice being instead of doing. Take 10-15 minutes to be still and quiet- to be versus do. Notice what you become aware of as you allow yourself to be. 
  6. Acceptance: Seeing how things actually are in the present. When we allow ourselves to see “what is” in the present moment we can find acceptance. Acceptance allows us to notice things that we may have missed by choosing to only see what we want to see. Many people avoid seeing things as they actually are (denial) to try to protect themselves from pain and suffering, when ironically, it is only through acceptance that we can live each moment to the fullest and transcend pain and suffering. Practice observing a situation as it actually is. Make room for what is there. Notice how acceptance permits you to respond appropriately no matter what is happening.
  7. Letting Go: When we begin paying attention to our internal experience, we become aware of the attachments to our thoughts and feelings. We realize we are holding on to things that are no longer serving us. Letting go is a way of allowing things to simply be. Holding on is the opposite of letting go. When we release things that no longer serve us, we create space for new blessings. Practice letting go by trying this nighttime exercise. Take a breath and allow yourself to become aware of anything that you are holding onto from your day. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly. As you inhale, take one thing you are still grasping on to (i.e., a conversation with your partner, a mistake you made, something that did not get finished, etc) and then as you exhale, release it. Watch it release from your grasp and fade away. Notice how you sleep!

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