If you have ever taken a yoga class you may have heard the teacher correct your or someone's posture and tell them to sit/stand straight up (in the present) and not to lean forward (into the future) or backward (into the past). This is the physical manifestation of mindfulness.
As you are reading this, it is today. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present. And with a purpose: to experience every moment without judgment. You may have used the phrase, “I feel like I'm on autopilot” to describe your day or week. Where is the purpose? You may get to work and realize you really don't know happened along the way or played on the radio. What experiences did you miss?
Mindfulness is not about changing who you are, but rather really seeing who you already are. Only when we truly know ourselves can we know our potential. That doesn't mean we lose sight of what lies ahead or where we have been. The concept is grounded in Eastern philosophy, but it doesn't ask you to no longer subscribe to your (non)religious beliefs. And some American writers and thinkers – Thoreau and Emerson, to name just 2 from the 19th Century – were based in what can now be thought of as mindfulness.
When we accept that what has happened before won't determine what happens next, we are freed from those disappointing events. When we figure out what we've learned since then and realize that today is a different set of circumstances and criteria, then we can look at our next decision a little wiser than the time before.
When we accept that we can't know or prepare for every possible experience that awaits us, we are freed from worry and we can focus on doing what has to be done now, which will ultimately prepare us to handle whatever is coming our way.
Mindfulness starts out as meditation – it's a way to center yourself and find the present, but it doesn't require that we are always meditating as you think – cross-legged with your eyes closed and breathing intentionally. It may last for just 20 minutes, but the purpose and experience of meditating then begins to envelope the hours after we finish. Over time, the act of being present can happen a little easier and with less effort.
Mindfulness has become a treatment for depression and anxiety that is not traditional psychotherapy, but with results that – for some clients – meets or exceeds the effects of medicine and some other forms of psychotherapy.
Remember today is today. Who were you today and what did you experience?
Resources you may want to check out ahead of any journey into mindfulness:
• “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn