This past year I have focused on mindfulness and as a result my life has exploded with positive changes. I credit mindfulness in large part for enabling some of those amazing changes:
- I have lost more than 115 lbs and I continue to lose at a slow, but steady pace
- My physical pain which once crippled me is now manageable
- I feel more at peace and accepting of myself
- I have become more grounded and life’s dramas affect me less
- I no longer constantly obsess on the negative
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and being present in each moment. Mindfulness has slightly different connotations when referred to in the context of some Eastern religions or psychology, but its aim is pretty much the same, i.e. being aware of and at peace with the Now. The premise is that human suffering is caused by obsessive thinking about the past and fear of the future. Focusing on each moment shifts the focus from the obsessive thinking about the past and the future to the only thing that is real: the Now.
The more I have been able to live in the present moment the less I am hounded by the past (in my case deep and long term depression). Focusing on being aware of the Now I am less obsessed with intense worry and dread of future events (for me it had manifested as a disabling anxiety disorder).
The goal of mindfulness is to shut out that constant stream of thought, often referred to as our inner chatterbox or ego. The more it is in control of us the further away from the moment we are. Our chatterbox analyzes and assesses everything. It constantly identifies, labels, worries, reacts and prevents us from existing in the present moment. As a result, our minds become obsessed with the past and the future and we completely ignore the Now.
All we have is the present moment. Wasting the Now by worrying, being anxious or regretting can become a permanent state of being. The only way to experience true joy is to learn to deemphasize that chatterbox and embrace the present moment.
How to Start Practicing Mindfulness
Start now by becoming aware of the present moment. I do it a number of ways, but I started by closing my eyes taking a breath and focusing on that breath. I try to be an observer of my surroundings and my body instead of focusing on the extraneous noises and thoughts.
I make it a point to be aware of each moment and try to ignore my chatterbox. In those moments when I achieve presence or stillness my problems, stress and fear disappear. When I am aware and present the situations and issues which I have to deal with every day are set aside, deemphasized and become unimportant. The momentary vacation from the constant stress and chatter feels like a glimpse of paradise. Each one of those moments builds on the next.
Mindfulness is easy to practice and can be done any time during waking hours. The most difficult challenge at first is remembering to practice it.
I improve the frequency and quality of my moments of mindfulness by reading about mindfulness, meditating, talking to friends and family about it and doing anything else that triggers me to think about mindfulness. Writing this blog post is helping me to focus on the Now. I try to be conscious in each moment as often as possible. I see a therapist who uses mindfulness in therapy and it has helped me immensely. Sometimes, I post sticky notes where I am likely to see them throughout the day to remind myself to become present and aware of the moment.
At first I was frustrated because I would forget to be mindful for long periods of time. I was accustomed to my chatterbox running my mind. At first it was a rare occasion when I would remember to stop, breathe, be present and aware of the moment. My chatterbox popped back in with its obsessive thoughts about what I “should” be doing or worrying about. At first I found it irritating, then I learned that it is normal, especially at first and I learned to accept it.
Now, I expect interruptions from my chatterbox. I observe those interruptions and escort them out of my moment. I don’t fight it because that automatic chatterbox has been controlling my life since I became sentient and it would win in a head-to-head match. Instead, I try to co-exist with it. When I realize my chatterbox is sneaking back in I simply acknowledge it, let it go and return to trying to be present. And guess what? Each time I notice my chatterbox THAT is a moment when I am aware and present. Just the act of acknowledging my chatterbox IS a moment of that elusive present awareness.
How Do I Know When I’m Being Mindful?
I know when I am successful in my attempt at being mindful if my chatterbox shuts up or is sent to the background even for a few seconds. I feel more peaceful, still and alive. I acquire a deeper appreciation of my surroundings. In fact, everything around me often looks more colorful or beautiful. In those moments I feel no problems or stresses, just calm, peace and a connection to something greater than myself. If I am mindful during an activity I enjoy it even if it is something otherwise distasteful.
How Long Does it Take to become Mindful?
You can do it right now, but mindfulness is not something done once. Mindfulness is an action. It is something you do as often as you can. The goal is to be mindful at every moment. Buddhists call that state “Enlightenment.” Other religions refer to it as “knowing God” or “being in the light of God.” Whatever it is, it is something I can’t accomplish as a permanent state because I am a human being. As long as I have a physical body I am a bundle of nerve endings, automatic responses, instinct and thought.
I can accomplish mindfulness in any given moment and I strive for that. The benefits of being mindful as often as possible are immeasurable. My goal is to become mindful in as many moments as I can and let the moments where I wasn’t mindful pass without concern.
How Does Mindfulness Relate to Weight Loss?
I used to beat myself up about eating poorly and not exercising and project my old yo-yo patterns into the future with deeply negative thoughts. No wonder I wasn’t successful. I was too busy resenting every French fry I ate, minute I wasted sitting and telling myself that I would never change. I was waiting for something different to happen to me, to make me change.
When I learned to shift my attention to the Now I slowly lost the focus on the past and the future. The guilt and shame of the past and the fear of failure in the future simply went away. At any given moment I can make a choice to eat something healthful, start an activity or stop an unhealthy pattern. Every moment is a chance to do something positive. If I allow a moment to pass I don’t mourn that moment. Instead, I focus on the moment at hand.
Each day I do something to keep me focused on the present and something positive for my health. Even if I do something small in this moment it all adds up. I have a number of methods which help me to stay focused on the present and keep the past and the future where they belong. Sometimes I invent little games to keep me active, I have learned to love shopping for whole foods and I now enjoy cooking. I read health food blogs and actually find yummy, satisfying ideas and recipes. I immerse myself in the abundance of good food and the enjoyment of eating. I have rejected guilt, shame and deprivation.
This blog is mostly about how I use mindfulness to lose weight and keep it off, to feel better emotionally and physically. As I learn, I will post here. Check back, subscribe or “like” my page on Facebook to learn more.