It is the key to so much. I first heard it and learned the term in yoga class in the late seventies. I took it to mean “focus” or “pay attention” and ran with it. In the last few years I’ve heard it more and more as “awareness,” but that only complicated my fumbling outside formal meditation. How in the busyness which surrounds us most of the time, do I bring that focus on the breath which so quiets us in meditation to the world’s chatter?
There are choices to be made before I focus. So many things clamor for attention, just being mindful and aware of it all will scatter me dreadfully, no matter what kind of multitasking skills I have developed. (And that is another matter entirely!)
So for me part of bringing a mindful presence to my time involves choosing what I want in my present.
My teacher then and many since have guided me to come back to the breath when when my skittering mind chases monkey trails. “Don’t get cross, just come back.” I learned pretty well not to bother with recriminations once I heard that is something everyone learns. My busy brain doesn’t need more work trying to corral the monkeys. That was a relief and eventually the quiet I so wanted was there for me.
None of that however, was of much use in the hurly-burly of a day’s work. I could use the breath for a moment or two of calm, a re-start, but sustaining it in everyday activities was beyond me. So I used what I had for years and it got me through raising two young ones more or less alone.
After they fledged, I spent long years incapacitated by illness and in an effort to get well and stay well, made an all out effort to simplify my life. I reprogrammed my Pavlovian response to answer requests immediately and in the positive. I learned to focus on what I understood I wanted and needed to thrive. A modicum of simplicity and quiet have given me a new kind of life and I am nourished by a discipline of gratitude. Lucky me.
Mindfulness has become key for me as my understanding of how to use it every day evolves. I usually resort to questions to help me sort and shift.
I ask myself:
- “What are you doing now? Right now.”
- “What else is going on in your mind?”
- “What of that doing and thinking stew do you need right now?”
Then I remind myself:
- That anything else can wait
- That worry uses energy and changes nothing
- That things will unwind as they are meant to do regardless of my fussing
- That I’ll be getting on with whatever it is more expeditiously if I stay present.
So for me to be mindful, I must first decide about what and pick it out of all the welter for focus. Sometimes that takes a little more sorting, but often it is straightforward and if I resolve to stay in the present, to keep the skittering brain busy in its own yard, mindfulness is there for me.
Now when I hear “be mindful” I hear the corollary I’ve gained from experience “…to the focus you’ve picked for the now”.