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  • Dr. Stefanie Tweedly

Mindfulness in Practice

There is such power in slowing down to appreciate this moment. Mindfulness is a way to experience this power, as it is the act of bringing one’s attention into the present moment and approaching both the present moment and one’s self without judgment.

When practicing mindfulness imagine your thoughts are leaves floating by on the surface of a stream. You want to resist the urge to reach out to grab the leaf, stop the leaf, or hurry the leaf down the stream.

There is such power in slowing down to appreciate this moment. Mindfulness, which I discussed in a previous article entitled “Meditation, Mindfulness, and Yoga as a Part of Healing Mental Health Struggles,” is a way to experience this power, as it is the act of bringing one’s attention into the present moment and approaching both the present moment and one’s self without judgment. While many roll their eyes and argue that there is nowhere else to be other than in this moment, the truth is each of us spends most of our time elsewhere without even realizing it; thinking of the past and/or future or lost somewhere in our own mind, which results in disconnection from the present moment and associated lack of awareness.

Mindfulness, then, is the purposeful practice of cultivating awareness. One of my favorite examples of this idea of cultivating awareness takes me back many years. I was rather new to my mindfulness practice. While I had been working to cultivate this ability to be in the present moment, I hadn’t noticed much of a difference at that point. As I rushed to see my first patient, already feeling the stress of the day, I noticed the beauty of the sunlight as it twinkled through the leaves falling from the autumn touched trees. In this moment I made a purposefully chose to stop and simply take in the view. After 20-30 seconds, I slowly continued making my way to my office, noticing the feel of the ground as my feet alternately touched it. As I noticed a shift within myself, from hurried and stressed to calm and peaceful, I realized that my mindfulness practice was coming more naturally, and in moments when I needed it. I found it amazing that such a brief moment of mindfulness could result in such a shift. Now this is not to say that mindfulness always results in a positive shift in emotion, mood, thought, etc., rather it is to say that mindfulness can be powerful in a variety of ways. It allows us to notice what is, which gives us an opportunity to choose, with awareness, how we proceed. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn (2007), founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts, mindfulness empowers us to take back our lives and happiness form the darkness that is inherent in being unaware.

A wonderful way to begin cultivating a mindfulness practice is to sit in a quiet room and notice your breath for 3-5 minutes. As you work to anchor your attention to your breath, you will find that your mind wonders, this is because that is what our brains are wired to do. Simply notice your thoughts, making an effort to not interact with them, judge them, or judge yourself. It may help to imagine your thoughts as leaves floating by on the surface of a stream. You want to resist the urge to reach out to grab the leaf, stop the leaf, or hurry the leaf down the stream. Just notice, then gently bring your attention back to your breath. This is successful mindfulness, as the goal of mindfulness is not to stop your thoughts. Instead, the goal is to notice what is in this moment, without judgement.


While mindfulness is a simple concept, it is quite challenging. As indicated above, it takes purposeful practice to cultivate a more mindful way of being in our lives. The effort is well worth it, as mindfulness allows us to become aware of where we are and what we need in order to move toward better being.


References

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). Arriving at your own door: 108 lessons in mindfulness. New York, NY: Hyperion.

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