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A 4-Week Guide for Developing

the Practice of Mindfulness

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment. The practice of mindfulness reduces stress and enriches our lives by helping us expand our awareness of the aliveness that exists in each moment of our lives. Mindfulness helps you tap into the power of NOW.

 

The practice of mindfulness was one of the tools which helped me on my journey of healing my heart wound after the unexpected death of my son, Blease. It encouraged me to be present with my thoughts and feelings while expanding my awareness of the importance of treasuring the moments of my life.

 

In the beginning, it wasn't the easiest practice for me to embrace because I was living much of my life on automatic pilot. However, as I began to complete weekly exercises for coursework in my creative writing and drama classes which I was taking at the time in college, I began to tap into its power to help me to recognize that in spite of my personal loss, I could move forward and experience new possibilities in my life.

 

Today, it is a daily practice.  It helps me to manage stress, and, it inspires me to embrace my morning routine, which includes meditation/prayer, exercise, reading something inspirational, and reviewing my daily calendar to set my intentions for each day.  

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is perceived by wellness experts as a therapeutic technique.

 

Are You Living Your Life on Automatic Pilot?

How many times have you driven home from work and realized you were putting the key in the door without much thought about your commute? From time to time, each one of us does this. It's a routine. We travel the same route, we make our customary stops before we arrive home. What's the harm in this routine?  Answer: we're not fully conscious of what's taking place around us. Despite the fact that our brains have developed an unconscious decision-making system so we can take care of routine tasks when we zone out while driving, this can be life-threatening.

 

 Our automatic responses to normal duties help us to be more efficient. However, when we fail to take notice of how our customary routines disconnect us from truly embracing life wholeheartedly, it is easy for us to live most of our life on automatic pilot without considering that we are sort of sleepwalking through life, except we are fully awake and we're not wearing pajamas. And the kicker is, no one notices that we are barely there. Perhaps that's because so many people are doing it. They are unaware that they are sleepwalking through life until some form of disruption breaks the trance.

 

When we feel our lives are in a rut, changing our perspective on the tasks we complete and the interactions we have with others to one of mindfulness greatly enriches our life experiences.

 

This four-week challenge will help you tune in to yourself, improve your interactions with others and help you tap into the power dwelling within your choices and decisions to enrich your everyday life by becoming more present.

 

Week 1: Tune-Out to Tune-In to Yourself

Schedule a thirty-minute date with yourself each day of this week to tune in to yourself. Many times when people have difficulty getting clear about what they want in life, how they can live a more meaningful life, or even how to put more passion into their relationships and work, it’s because they've allowed the daily demands of life to disconnect them from what matters most to them. Scheduling time to be present with yourself expands your self-awareness. Awareness is the first step to creating change.

 

This week's challenge is designed to help increase your self-awareness. The time allotted for this daily task is thirty minutes. I believe that when you begin to develop a new habit, starting small helps you to achieve quick wins which are essential to building up your confidence that developing the habit is doable and worthwhile.

Ground yourself by engaging in deep belly breaths. This means actively pulling the diaphragm down with each inward breath. Inhale on a count of eight and exhale on a count of eight. Do this three times. As you complete each set, allow your body to relax more and more as you exhale. If you're short on time, set an alarm on your phone or, watch to make sure that you don't go beyond the thirty minutes.

 

Mindfulness In Practice. Find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed or distracted. Sit down and be present with yourself. Just breathe and feel. Pay attention to your breathing. Pay attention to how your body is feeling and the thoughts in your mind.  Pay attention to what you see, hear, taste, touch, and hear. This week's practice is to help you be present with yourself and your environment.  Just allow your thoughts, feelings, and emotions to be without trying to control them. Notice how when you embrace surrender and allowing the less you feel a need to control and judge yourself.

Week 2:  Mindful Writing

Schedule a thirty-minute date with yourself each day this week to complete and reap the benefits of the practice of mindful writing. As you did last week, find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed or distracted. You can listen to music that calms you but is not a distraction from completing the exercise. Make sure you have your journal or a blank sheet of paper and ink pen.

 

Ground yourself by engaging in deep belly breaths. This means actively pulling the diaphragm down with each inward breath. Inhale on a count of eight and exhale on a count of eight. Do this three times. As you complete each set, allow your body to relax more and more as you exhale. If you're short on time, set an alarm on your phone or, watch to make sure that you don't go beyond the thirty minutes.

 

Mindfulness In Practice. This week's challenge is designed to help you observe your emotions and thoughts without judgment or denying them. Begin to listen to your thoughts and free write. Don't be concerned about punctuation, complete sentences, spelling, or editing. Simply write whatever you hear in your mind. Pay attention to the sensations that you feel in your body and write about them as well.

 

At the end of the thirty minutes, stop writing. After you complete your “mindful writing practice,” read it back to yourself. This is a simple way for you to develop your ability to observe yourself and hear the story that you are telling yourself. Use this practice to become mindful of your self-talk and how it's helping you to move forward or hindering you from making progress in your life.

 

Week 3: Be Present in Your Interactions with Others

Each of us is guilty at one time or another spending time interacting with people while thinking about our response to what is being said, or, thinking about what else we need to get done. This week's challenge is designed to help improve your ability to connect with anyone. During this week, instead of thinking about what to say next, or what else you need to get done, the challenge is for you to FOCUS on being present, listening to conversations with the purpose of paying attention to everything that is being said verbally and non-verbally in the body language of individuals.

Mindfulness In Practice. Look at people when they are speaking. Be attentive to them. Smile at them. This affirms that you are interested in what they have to say. Get out of your head and listen with the purpose of gaining understanding and validating the people that you interact with. You don't have to agree with someone to acknowledge and respect them. Embrace the interactions that you have this week with mindfulness and wholeheartedness. Maya Angelou stated, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Being present with others is a gift that keeps on giving.

 

Week 4: Live Slowly and Savor Life

We live in a time where everyone is always saying, “I'm busy.” When we live our lives constantly juggling one task after another without any space in our schedule to enjoy our day, our days begin to run together, weeks become months and before we know it, it's time to think about what we're going to do for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and wondering to ourselves, “Where has the time gone?” If we continue like this, as the years pass, we'll regret the opportunities that we didn't seize to savor the moments as they were happening.

 

This week's challenge is designed to help you better manage the stress that comes with the constant demand to do more. It encourages you to view your meals from a different perspective if you have a tendency of rushing through them. In this week's challenge, you are being asked to do two things, reduce the amount of time that you spend multitasking by focusing on one task at a time and eat slower.

 

I know that this may seem impossible if you are someone who believes that you get so much more done when you are constantly in a state of busyness. However, research is showing that multitasking actually reduces our brain's effectiveness. And for those who are in the habit of rushing through their meals, savoring each bite of food by slowing down and not rushing your meals helps with the digestion of your food, and it can actually make you feel full so that you don't eat as much.

 

Mindfulness In Practise. Completing one task at a time will help you concentrate your energy toward the task at hand, instead of having your energy diluted by your attempts to complete multiple tasks at the same time. The next time you wash dishes, wash your car, mow the lawn, bathe your child, go to the movies with your kids and/or significant other, complete that work assignment that is difficult be present, and focus on completing that one task.  Do this over and over again, and you'll begin to reap the benefits of mindfulness.

 

Savoring your meals demonstrates an appreciation for having food to eat. It inspires gratitude for the effort that was made by yourself or others towards the meal preparation.  If you're in the company of other people, as you eat slower, you are more apt to experience better conversations with them at mealtimes. Tune in to your five senses and be mindful of what you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch that brings you joy. 

 

Living slowly and savoring the moments of your life can challenge those of us who are driven to pack our schedules full with no wiggle room. It's difficult to develop the habit of mindfulness without creating space for doing nothing. You don't have to live your life wondering where the time went. You can start to embrace life wholeheartedly with the practice of mindfulness and awaken to all that you have, as you pursue new possibilities in your life.

In Conclusion

 

At the end of this Mindfulness Challenge, I recommend that you continue to expand your knowledge of the practice of mindfulness which includes mindful meditation. This practice will help ensure that you don't sleepwalk through your life. In many of our daily routines, being on automatic pilot increases our productivity. The danger that comes with living our lives in this mode most of the time is, it prevents us from being fully present and embracing all the goodness that is happening in our lives right now.

 

A byproduct of the practice of mindfulness is a greater sense of appreciation for the life you are living and the people in your life. A heart attitude of appreciation and gratitude fuels a sense of contentment. Feelings of contentment by no means should dissuade you from pursuing more meaningful experiences.

 

The practice of mindfulness will help you manage the constant chatter in your mind. This can bring welcome relief for many people who find it difficult to quiet their minds.  As you manage your thoughts with the practice of mindfulness, you will experience less confusion and anxiety.

 

Be present. It is a key to getting unstuck and moving forward. And, it is essential to embrace the fullness of who you are capable of becoming and creating the experiences you desire and deserve.

 

Sources:

Practicing Mindfulness. Michael Baime, MD. www.pbs.org.

 Guidelines for Mindful Writing. Patricia A. Burke, MSW. www.patriciaburke.com

The Mindfulness Guide for the Super Busy: How to Live Life to the Fullest. Leo  Babauta. www.zenhabits.net.

e Life to the Fullest. Leo         Babauta. www.zenhabits.net.