If you have been reading my articles you should know by now I am a huge proponent of practicing mindfulness within our lives and research continues to back up its effectiveness (Ludwig & Kabat-Zinn 2008). The changing of the seasons is always such a great time to help practice mindfulness regardless of where we are. The changes that are going on around us make for a wealth of material to really ground us in the present moment. We are a society that is on the move, thinking about the future, and multi-tasking more than any other generation before it. Dwelling on the past or living in the future makes it difficult to stay grounded in the moment, which is all we really have. Jack Kornfield, my favorite meditation teacher, says “if we truly want to love we can only do so in the moment. To love in the past is a memory, and to love in the future is a fantasy.”
Mindfulness is simply purposely and carefully being aware of the present moment without judgment or criticism. If you are new to Mindfulness one of the best ways to begin is a grounding exercise that utilizes your five senses. Taking a few moments to carefully pay attention to what you hear, see, smell, taste, and touch will always bring us back to the present moment and ground us in it. Try to be as specific as you can with texture, color, and sensations. Don’t just see a tree, observe the tree, or the leaf, or the sky. Just 30 seconds of this will quiet your mind and bring you back to the present moment. The wonderful thing about this exercise is it can be done anywhere; driving, eating, standing in line, traffic, or in a park. Your setting does not have to be beautiful, that’s not the point. The point is simply to be in the moment without judgment of ourselves or others. To fully appreciate and take in this precious life we have been given. When I do this I often find unexpected beauty, but I am not seeking it out, I am just observing. When we can practice being more mindful and present we can begin to detach from the past and not worry about the future. When can be more present we are generally more grateful and gratitude has profound effects on mental health.
While it is important to think and plan for the future if we get too far ahead of ourselves that planning and thinking can quickly turn to anxiety, stress, worry, or fear. When thinking turns to stressing is when we let go and come back to this moment. It is also helpful to reflect on the past, reminisce, and learn from it; but once that turns to depression, regret, guilt, or shame, it is time to let go, those thoughts are not serving you. It is a delicate dance and impossible to do perfect, if you are trying to do it perfect you are bringing judgment to it and that’s not the purpose. This takes practice and your mind will wander, usually quite quickly. That’s ok, it’s good at that so be grateful it’s doing its job well. Don’t put judgement on yourself that you should have it mastered the first time you try it. Just acknowledge the wandering thoughts and come back to the moment. There is no good or bad at mindfulness, that brings judgement into the picture; there is only practicing mindfulness. Take a moment, pause the TV, turn off the radio, or open a window; notice what you hear, smell, taste, touch, and see. If you work in an office take 10 seconds when you walk by a window to take in what you see. If you’re a parent be mindful of your child’s play, or sleep. Really take in as many details as you can. If they are having a meltdown, take 30 seconds to breathe and gather yourself. They will thank you for it.
When I look around my yard I purposely planted trees and bushes that blossom bright colors that change throughout the year just so I can practice this and each season brings me new surprises. Outside my bedroom window is a Japanese maple tree I planted that turns from greens, to reds, and oranges. All through my yard I have various colors and textures and shapes that help me practice this. If you can start incorporating things into your life that make practicing mindfulness enjoyable then even better! Even a blade of grass when observed closely and carefully can be full of details to help you stay fully in this moment. If we want to not repeat the wreckage of our past we can only really do so in the moment. If we want to be successful in the future we can really only do what we need to in this moment to lead to that success. I challenge you to practice this all throughout your day, share it with others, really be aware and awake.
Curtis Buzanski, LMFT, LAADC