Mindful Mondays: The Intro

 Buddhist monks mindfully gazing at a glacier in Iceland.

Buddhist monks mindfully gazing at a glacier in Iceland.

Because I just learned this social media hashtag trend “Mindful Monday” and I love alliteration a little too much, I’ve decided to start my own series of Mindful Mondays.

Mindfulness is the key to life. I often joke that when I write a self-help book it’s simply going to state,“Be mindful.” And that is all.

Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment, experiencing it as it is without judgment or trying to change it. This includes both what’s going on both externally and internally. Thoughts, emotions, sounds, tastes, smells, what we see, physical sensations, they all make up our experience.  

So freaking simple. Yet so challenging to maintain. Which is why perhaps if I do write that self-help book it might have to be a little longer than two words.

 Mindfulness is what helped inventors harness the wind.

Mindfulness is what helped inventors harness the wind.

This is also why I thought sharing my own experiences with mindfulness, along with mindfulness practices, might be helpful to others as we all strive to spend more time in the present.

Why is mindfulness even the new hot thing? And what’s so great about the present moment? Especially if it sucks.

Because if you’re truly mindful, even just for that brief, fleeting moment, you’re in a state of peace and awareness. It’s only through judgment, reliving the past, and attempting to predict the future that we experience pain in the form of anxiety and depression.

But as I said before while mindfulness is simple, it isn’t necessarily easy to maintain. We move in and out of mindfulness all the time. It’s the state of being human.

I’ve heard Buddhist monks, who’ve devoted their entire lives to this practice, talk about how they still struggle with it. But what they and everyone else who maintains a consistent practice says, is that it becomes easier over time. They spend more time in that present state and receive the benefits as a result.

I first encountered mindfulness as an athlete. I didn’t know what it was intellectually since I was a kid and no one told me what it was. I later learned the term “flow” in college and realized that was what was happening when I was killing it out there with seemingly little effort.

 Photography involves a lot of mindfulness.

Photography involves a lot of mindfulness.

I’d also experienced this state while writing and engaged in other creative pursuits, as well as when I was out in nature. Still I didn’t put it all together until I was in grad school and thrown into intensive mindfulness practice while being trained as a therapy intern. That was when I realized this mindfulness thing could be applied to all of life.

Something I like about mindfulness is there really isn’t an end goal. It simply is what it is. As a recovering perfectionist this is reassuring. No matter what I’m experiencing, if I’m actually present with it I’m being mindful. And when I realize I’m not being mindful, there I am again being mindful. There’s nothing to accomplish. Nothing to win. No set standard. No rules. It simply is.

I move in and out of mindfulness constantly. I have moments where it’s supremely zen. And way, way more moments when I have to tell myself to breathe into the discomfort because that’s all I have control over.

 It's easier to be present in nature.

It's easier to be present in nature.

But over the years of practice I do find myself spending more and more time in the present and experiencing more peace, clarity, and joy as a result. Even fully throwing myself into the pain has been a wholly worthwhile experience. Because I’m fully engaging in my life.

Prior to discovering mindfulness, I’d spent most of my life avoiding the present. I was always trying to figure out how to get to the next step. This was in an attempt to avoid experiencing pain, but in the process I didn’t experience the more amazing moments as well. I rarely celebrated accomplishments, telling myself there was never any doubt that I’d do it so why party it up. Everyone could graduate college or run marathons or start a business or whatever if they really wanted.

Doing this, I missed out on life. Suddenly I was older than I realized and couldn’t figure out how time had flown by so quickly. I discovered that the only way life could feel long and full was to be present in it for all that it is. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, without those labels. That was the turning point. I decided no matter how painful something was I was going to feel the heck out of it. And I was also going to fully appreciate every teeny tiny (or massive) blessing that came my way.

So I have. Quite imperfectly. But I have. Over and over and over again.

One might think, well, that’s all fine and dandy, but then you’re just blowing in the wind, without any say in your life. But that actually isn’t the case.

 Going with the flow.

Going with the flow.

When you’re more mindful, yes, you’re going with the flow, but that’s how life operates best. Going with the flow doesn’t mean you sit on your couch and your life just shows up to you via Amazon. Going with the flow does require effort, but it’s inspired effort. It allows you the clarity to know just what to do in any given situation. I’ve become much more adept at knowing when to put effort into something and when to allow. This makes everything flow more smoothly. And when it feels like I’m swimming against the current, I know I’m not being mindful and trying to force things.

So Mondays will be part of the journey. And a practice. For me and for anyone else who tunes in to read this. #mindfulmonday