This article originally appeared in issue 1 of my e-book, SnB Quarterly. If you want to receive this quarterly ebook, just sign up for my email list at the bottom of the screen after you read.
One of those highly overused words, I know. What it means at this point seems to fluctuate depending on who is talking about it. So I will start off by being explicit about what I mean by “mindfulness.”
Mindfulness is the conscious awareness that you bring to the present moment; the ability to guide your conscious awareness. Mindfulness is not the present moment itself. It’s something you bring to the present moment and experience the present moment through. Mindfulness is the conscious viewing of what is happening in the present moment.
But not just the stuff in the world. Mindfulness is also viewing what is happening within your:
From what I have experienced and learned from others in their practice, when you’re really in the present moment, you can attune to all of these pieces of the present moment. And you will do so without judgment. It’s a curious watching.
It is a strong but gentle hold on the ventral vagal pathways of your autonomic nervous system. In these pathways, you can be curious. And I have found curiosity to be central to mindfulness. If not, what may be unearthed will be met with reflexive defensiveness stemming from a sympathetic or dorsal state.
By the way, these 5 tips are all a part of my Building Safety Anchors course. In the course, I teach and guide into utilizing these tips every day for 30 days. And by doing so, you will discover what unique safety anchors you have. Things that bring you to the present moment.
1. Make it a Practice
Mindfulness needs to be a practice. Maybe it’s something you schedule for the same time, day after day. That’s fine. Maybe it’s an alarm you set on your smart device to remind you. But it could also be something that you set the intention to practice more sporadically.
Either way, the intention that you set and then follow through with is important. Practicing being in the present moment takes... Well, practice. If you were playing on a sports team, you would practice in order to improve your skill level, right? Same with an instrument or drawing. Really, when it comes to anything, practice is important.
Same with being in the present moment. You have to practice it. If the best you can dedicate yourself to is a sporadic once a day, do it. If you are ready for a more dedicated routine, do it.
Practice is going to be important when it comes to tolerating the stuff that may come up as you gain more ability to access your feelings.
2. Start With the outside
The internal stuff might be too much. If you do not currently have the capacity for the internal, like feelings and sensations and memories that come up, then start with the outside.
If you have the opportunity to practice mindfulness, then you’re probably in a safe environment. So use that to your advantage and begin with the external world. Remind yourself that you’re safe and begin to use your senses to be more in the present moment.
Direct your attention to the experience of your sense(s). Smelling a lemon isn’t just smelling a lemon. Your body will give you a sense of a general like or dislike. If you drill down further, you might notice where you feel that sensation. Or how intense it is. You might notice feelings of ease or disease. An increased likelihood to smile or pull away.
3. One Thing at a Time
Maybe not all at once. There are kind of a lot of pieces to the outside world. Taking them all in at once is probably overwhelming. So utilizing one of your senses at a time might be ideal.
Maybe using your scent is a good place to start. Or maybe using your eyes, like in my Present Moment Present #1 where I guide the listener to use their eyes in becoming more present.
Focus on that one sense and the details of that one sense. If you’re using your ears, first start with listening for sounds that are far away (or close), then focus on another depth of sound.
4. Find a Safe Spot
Be mindful in a place that boosts your potential to access your ventral vagal pathways.
Yes, you could practice mindfulness anywhere. But some locations, like a public bus, might not be ideal. Notice environments that are a clear no for your nervous system. Places that don’t feel safe enough to slow down and be curious.
Notice environments that are a yes for you as well. Notice what about these environments give you a sense of safety. Is one spot in the environment more of a yes than another? And what can you do about your environment to increase the feelings of safety?
5. Allow movement
We associate a still meditation with practicing mindfulness. But why? Why can’t we be mindful while moving? Of course, we can. You can bring that same curiosity of the inner world while moving. And I think that can be very helpful, especially when in a sympathetic flight/fight energy.
You could tap into that energy in stillness and discharge it. But you could also experiment with movement based on what state you are in. Experiment with what types of pushing feels right or wrong for you. Or leg movements - sprinting, swimming or just flexing and releasing your calf muscles while sitting?
Movement is a way to really individualize your personal mindfulness experiences. Your body needs to move the way that it needs to. Which is going to be different than mine or anyone else’s.
Mindfulness is not a cookie cutter thing. Make it work for your unique body. Take what others recommend, try it, then rule it in or out. Don’t worry about doing it right or wrong, just focus on the experience and what you’re learning about yourself in the process.
Really, that’s what it’s about. The process and not the result. In the process is where you actually become more in the present moment. Through curious self-reflection and intentional practice. The result will continually shift and never really be final. You will always - and wonderfully - have opportunities for curious mindfulness.
If this piqued your interest and you're ready for more in-depth work, I highly recommend my course. It's for the person that wants to be more in the present moment and is ready to commit to putting in the work every day for 30 days in small doses. Learn more about Building your own Safety Anchors.