How To Get Started With A Mindfulness Practice
I’ve often heard mindfulness described as paying attention to the present moment on purpose with non-judgment. More broadly, it can be defined as, “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” But what does paying attention to the present moment entail, and what exactly does the quality of being conscious feel like?
Let’s get started.
Back to Basics: What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is paying attention.
To be mindful is to be aware that we are human beings having experiences: many simultaneous experiences transiently streaming through the ever-present moment. Thoughts, feelings, sensations, desires, and drives are just some examples of these experiences.
Paying attention doesn’t necessarily always sound like the most fun way to spend what little free time you have. So why bother practicing mindfulness?
Cultivating and sticking to a mindfulness practice actually has a whole host of benefits. It can reduce stress and enhance focus, making your efforts potentially more efficient and possibly freeing up additional time for you to engage with mindfulness, or another activity that feeds your soul.
Mindfulness has been shown to boost memory, promote satisfaction within relationships, and reduce emotional reactivity. This creates a mental balance that allows you to move through life with compassion for both yourself and those in your community.
How to Get Started with a Mindfulness Practice
The active practice of mindfulness is summed up by the title of one of my favorite books by author Ram Dass: “Remember, Be Here Now.” Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much.
The first thing to develop in a mindfulness practice is focus or concentration. Sitting and observing your breath is a great place to start. Take one breath and intentionally focus on the feelings and sensations of your stomach and chest rising and falling. Perhaps you can only hold your focus for a fraction of a second before your mind wanders off into distraction, dissociation, or daydreaming - worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. That’s okay. This kind of concentration is a mental muscle and the more you practice, the longer you’ll be able to focus.
That said, you can’t get to where you want to go with mindfulness if you’re beating yourself up. This is where the essential skill of non-judgment comes into play. The tendency to judge others and ourselves builds a habit of constant comparison in our minds. This comparison can act as fuel for your ego. You might think, “I should be able to concentrate better.” “I’m probably much better at this than my friend - he’s so scatter-brained.” “Why can’t I just be silent? I hate that I’m thinking all of these thoughts.” “I’m so bad at mindfulness.”
But we are also human beings and our experiences are vast. Every judgment we pass takes us another step away from the present moment. Living “now” means focusing on noticing our experiences as they come and graciously releasing them as they go. Again and again.
If this aspect of mindfulness is a challenge for you, you might want to check out Bluebird’s Guide to Starting a Daily Meditation Practice or learn about some of our favorite wellness apps and podcasts.
Mindfulness On the Daily
Mindfulness daily practices include a number of things: performing one conscious breath a few times each day, having mindful meals without technology, sitting for 10 to 15 minutes every morning with the flock in the Bluebird office, noticing when you're distracted, and subsequently reorienting to the present moment with bodily sensations. Most importantly, make sure to practice non-judgment toward yourself when these regular practices don’t come to fruition - for a day (or a week, or even months!).
The takeaway is this: aim for consistency, but be forgiving with yourself if you don’t always achieve it.
Mindfulness for Creating Community
Conscious reflection helps significantly in the longer term. Ask yourself questions like, “What practices or lifestyle choices are serving me?” and “Which choices are no longer serving me and what can I try to meet that same need in a better way?” Coming back to these questions can direct your focus and help you work toward building a more fulfilling and congruent life.
But perhaps the greatest gift that mindfulness can offer is the gift of understanding. It profoundly affects how you may relate to others when you can be present enough to understand where another person is coming from, whether from lived experience of where they are or attentive listening.
We at Bluebird believe that understanding is the foundation for compassionate love and creating a locus of community. And prioritizing community is exactly what we need to make this world a better, more empathetic place.