“He who attends to his greater self becomes a great man, and he who attends to his smaller self becomes a small man.” — Mencius
Mindfulness is a topic that generates interest and curiosity from people from all walks of life. As a result, it has been studied extensively in the last 20 years from multiple angles. Because mindfulness research has been forging ahead in laboratories around the world, we can now say with conviction about certain things. That said, there are some elements to the practice of mindfulness that cannot be proven or condemned by science. They can only be experienced — through trial and error, patience and discipline — by you and me, human beings living on planet Earth.
On the other hand, many of the benefits of mindfulness are scientifically verifiable. A lot of research has been done on how meditation affects us physiologically and psychologically. For example, studies have shown that meditation slows down activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our fight-or-flight response to stressors. Research also shows that people who practice meditation experience less anxiety, depression and pain than those who don’t meditate regularly.
Even though these studies provide scientific explanations for some benefits of practising mindfulness, I think it’s important to go beyond what can be proven by science or statistics alone. That’s why I hope to share with you a first-hand experience—or at least my best attempt to describe an experience—of what it means to be mindful.
Perhaps the best way to understand mindfulness is by thinking of it as a complete and conscious awareness of one’s surroundings—inherently non-judgemental, fully engaged with the present moment and not influenced by memories of the past or expectations for what might happen in the future.
This concept can be difficult to grasp, especially since our culture has conditioned us to think otherwise. As a result, I find that many people have a “negative impression” of what being mindful really means. They equate it with being spaced out or caught up in their thoughts. Of course, they’re wrong about this too! Mindfulness is the opposite of those things because it puts us more in control than ever before. In fact, mindfulness is about recognizing and accepting that we have control — or rather, choice – over our own thoughts and feelings. In other words, mindfulness doesn’t make us passive observers of what’s going on around us. Instead, it allows us to be more present as active participants in our lives.
What makes mindfulness particularly challenging is the fact that there’s no one right way to do it. It all comes down to the choices you make—and different individuals will come up with diverse ways of making those choices every single day. For example, a person may decide to wear a pink T-shirt today because he thinks it’ll contribute to his happiness for this particular day. Another individual might choose not to wear a pink shirt for fear of being judged and ridiculed by others.
Even though they’ve chosen different outfits, both people are essentially practising mindfulness because their decision-making process is conscious and deliberate. They’re fully engaged in the activity at hand—the act of getting dressed; they’re aware that something as simple as choosing an outfit can contribute to their feeling happier or less stressed out as a result of it. Mindfulness is about recognizing these sorts of opportunities every step of the way! And it’s all a matter of choice – yours and mine – on how we choose to live our lives from moment to moment.
In my experience, being mindful is one of the most powerful things a person can do for themselves. Being mindful stops us from worrying about what other people think or feel about us. You can see how this might pose a problem for some people who try to be mindful on a day-to-day basis.
This is one of the reasons why mindfulness is so difficult and, at times, overwhelming—there’s always room for improvement. There are two contrasting forces in our lives that tug us in opposite directions when it comes to practising mindfulness: self-awareness and spontaneity.
The problem is that it’s very difficult to be fully aware of our thoughts and feelings without sacrificing spontaneity. Being spontaneous is an expression of not knowing or caring how others perceive us; mindfully choosing something different (e.g., wearing a pink T-shirt) can make us feel vulnerable in social settings, sacrificing spontaneity in the process. However, if we’re unable to recognize what’s going on around us with any kind of conscious awareness, then we won’t be able to live life with much authenticity either.
So there are two forces tugging at each end of this rope—and no matter which way you turn it seems like someone else loses out on the deal! On one hand, being self-aware and deliberate with our thoughts and feelings can make us feel more in control of who we are as individuals; on the other hand, being spontaneous reinforces the idea that we can’t always be held accountable for our actions. There’s a fine line between these two forces—the same line that separates mindfulness from self-awareness—that cuts right through to the heart of who you are as an individual.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, don’t worry because it’s not just you! A lot of people share similar struggles with both spontaneity and consciousness/self-awareness. The key is striking a balance between these two extremes. You need to give yourself enough time every now and then to stop worrying about what others may think of you and who you want to be as a person. You need to give yourself permission to do those unexpected things that make life interesting—those random acts of kindness, for example, which can go a long way towards increasing our happiness levels.
The idea is not about choosing between these two elements because that’s impossible; it’s about finding the middle ground between them where we can all live happily ever after.
Habits that can help you cultivate mindfulness
-Journaling (keeping a regular diary)
-Reading/listening to inspirational speeches, stories, and other content that helps you become more self-aware and conscious of what’s going on around you
-Writing down your hopes and dreams for the future in a personal journal (i.e., where you can be free to express who you want to become as an individual)
The key is consistency; we must make mindfulness a priority every day! When we do this, we start recognizing how much power there is in being aware of our thoughts and feelings—and it really doesn’t matter what kind of day we’ve had or what sort of obstacles may get in our way. Mindfulness allows us to see the world from a different perspective—informed by our past experiences as well as those moments when we choose to take action.
In essence, mindfulness can empower us to be more self-aware and spontaneous at the same time—a daunting task, no doubt. But it’s anything but impossible because what matters most is that you don’t give up on yourself too easily!
What may seem like conscious incompetence (i.e., not knowing how to improve your quality of life) can actually turn into conscious competence (i.e., practising mindfulness until you achieve the life of your dreams). It just takes practice, persistence, and patience. And above all, a positive attitude.
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Blessing Iyamadiken loves the art of storytelling and enjoys creating all types of content from news to entertainment. She is also a feminist and very passionate about Gender Equality. In her spare time, she loves to read or binge on Netflix.