ABCs of Positivity: M Is for Mindfulness
It seems like you can’t throw a rock today without hitting someone who’s talking about the importance of mindfulness.1 Why would we throw a rock at them? I don’t know – and if you can find the explanation for that phrase, I’ll give you a cookie (or some equivalent Fairy Positive gift). The point is that mentions of mindfulness are everywhere, and for good reason.
Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools we have for overcoming negativity and staying healthy in body, mind, and spirit. According to a post from ThriveGlobal.com, the marriage of mindfulness and positivity has the power to optimize our well-being and elevate our compassion and resistance to stress and negativity to allow us to stay healthier and happier. THIS is precisely the mission of Fairy Positive.
Mindfulness means staying focused on the present moment, consistently aware of our thoughts, emotions, and physical feelings of the body, as well as our surrounding environment – seeing all through a peaceful, nurturing lens. When we are mindful, we are attentive only to today, this hour, this minute, this moment – rather than grieving or regretting the past or worrying about the future.
PositivePsychology.com describes mindfulness as:
“… the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.”
Though I’m not much of a fan of the Dummies brand, Dummies.com has an explanation for mindfulness that I really like: “Mindfulness is a translation of the ancient Indian word Sati that means awareness, attention and remembering.” I think the remembering piece gets overlooked a lot when we consider what mindfulness means and how to practice it.
While some people may be innately more mindful than others, the good news is that mindfulness is a condition one can achieve with practice. It involves awareness of self and others, and the ability to step back and take an objective view of what we learn from that awareness.
Many seem to recommend meditation as a mechanism for achieving mindfulness; it definitely is one way to do it. But it’s not the only way.
Mindful.org offers 7 steps for beginning a mindfulness practice:
- Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
- Be sure you’re sitting in a stable position you can hold for a while.
- Set a brief time limit of 5 to 10 minutes.
- Notice your body. Feel the chair/floor under you. Feel your clothes against your skin. Feel the temperature. Notice any smells and sounds.
- Feel your breath and follow the sensation as you breathe in and out.
- Notice when your mind has wandered and bring your attention back to your breath.
- Don’t judge yourself or obsess when your mind wanders – just return to your mindfulness practice.
I have three comments about these steps:
ONE: While this process is similar to meditation, the goal is a bit different. You are trying to stay focused on the present moment. With meditation, the goal is really not to focus on anything (although you may use a word as a mantra or pay some attention to your breathing). I have heard meditation described as focusing on the space between your thoughts.
TWO: I would say these steps are geared at a very specific kind of mindfulness. In my view, mindfulness need not be practiced while sitting in a quiet room. If you’re truly living life mindfully, you will be able and ready to practice mindfulness any time in any place.
THREE: You can also practice mindfulness by stopping during your day to simply look around and take in your environment; take a deep breath; and give thanks for the moment and all it entails. Then proceed with your day – until the next time you take a mini mindfulness break.
Often when I am walking, I find myself reaching out to touch the things around me: tree bark, brick or concrete walls, smooth and shiny surfaces, flower petals, fabrics. It occurs to me now that this may be one of my personal methods of mindfulness.
My husband and I were the beneficiaries of a wonderful house left to us by his grandmother. One of the amazing things about its location is the greenbelt behind our house. Sometime last spring, I was out walking on the greenbelt, and I was called to mindfulness. I spent longer than usual walking a path I often walk with ease, paying attention to every detail. How my clothes felt against my body. The weight of my ponytail on the back of my neck. The feel of the slight breeze against my skin. The sound and feel of the dirt path crunching under my shoes. The sounds of the birds and the water rushing in the stream. The smell of the stream and the freshly cut grass. The greenness of the grass juxtaposed against the whiteness of the buildings. The only sensation I could not really account for was taste. This walk was more than a year ago, and yet I remember every detail because I made a point at the time of committing it to memory so I could recall it later.
We can all have mindfulness moments like this at any point in our days – we don’t have to be out walking in nature to do it.
Since that time, my husband and I have begun a three-part daily mindfulness practice. We got married on St. Patrick’s Day 2011 and recently celebrated the 12-year anniversary of our first date. Even though I had been in relationships with addicts before and I realized John was a problem drinker fairly early on in our relationship, he hid the severity of the problem from me for a long time. Last year, on August 3, he hit another car in the local grocery parking lot, resulting in a DUI. We were both immeasurably grateful that the accident was minor, with no severe injuries, and eventually the DUI charges were dropped for lack of evidence. But to say it was an enormous wake-up call is a severe understatement.
Because John was so freaked out the day after the accident, and I didn’t really have any other advice to offer, I suggested that we light a candle and give thanks for as many things as we could think to list. The next day, though we were both a little calmer, we did the gratitude exercise again. And then again the day after that. And the day after that. Soon it morphed into the combination of a daily gratitude and affirmations/intentions session, and before long, we added a 15-minute quiet meditation. We were talking one day about wanting to focus on improving our immune systems and overall physical health, so we also added a 5-minute silent meditation where we dedicate the time to our health. I described that part of the meditation in my post: H Is for Health.
This daily practice has helped both of us achieve a sense of calm, appreciation, and much more positive perspective than either of us had ever experienced before. On August 3, 2021, John celebrated one year sober – the longest he’s ever gone in his life. He did it using a behavior modification program, without AA or rehab. And to this day, we are grateful to the other driver. That man probably doesn’t know it, but he may have helped save John’s life. We include him regularly in our mindfulness practice.
The order of our mindfulness practice is:
- 5-minute silent meditation focused on health
- Taking turns verbalizing our gratitudes and intentions for the day
- 15-minute silent meditation
The whole thing takes about 30 minutes and we try to do it the first thing in the morning, but some days we don’t get to it until later in the day. What I love is that we both look forward to it. There’s no drudgery or grumbling. We just sit down, light the candle, set the cow timer, and we’re off.
We’re all human, mind you, so none of us is perfect at mindfulness – nor should that be our goal. Even with our daily meditation practice, John and I still have our moments – thankfully, though, they are much fewer and further between.
The act of staying present benefits us all in myriad ways, including improving our physical, mental, and spiritual health and well-being. In fact, the benefits of mindfulness greatly overlap with the benefits of gratitude – and all the other ABCs of Positivity, for that matter.
What steps will you take to practice a bit more mindfulness today?
1 Even The New York Times Magazine did this piece on mindfulness in 2019.