What Mindfulness Means

By: Jennica Janssen
Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program Intern

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the
past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles,
but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha

Mindfulness is a broad term that is often repeated in Eastern religions as well as psychology. This Buddhist practice is an
excellent skill to strengthen and use every single day.

Mindfulness can be simply defined as staying in the moment. Take a second to really think about the last time you focused on what you were doing in the present. Right now, you are reading an Internet post by a new blog writer who is getting you to focus on only the words currently being shown on your screen. At this very moment, you are checked in to what is happening right now. You are not worrying about the future and the one million things you have to make sure you accomplish tomorrow. You are also not dwelling on the past trip to the store and that one item you know you forgot to buy.

Staying in the here and now helps to relieve stress and anxiety by making sure you are checked in to your own life. By being mindful, you are able to be 100% present in every activity throughout your day. Have you ever driven home on auto pilot and pulled into your driveway not realizing how you got there? This is a perfect example of not being mindful and letting your brain wander away.

Some people use the example of being mindful while you wash dishes. I like to use the example of being mindful while you brush your teeth. This is a great practice that will allow you to use mindfulness in a situation where you’re trying to really overcome stress. So next time you brush your teeth, focus on only brushing your teeth. Think about the taste of the toothpaste in your mouth. Feeling the bristles over your front teeth and then feel the bristles over your back today. Notice the feeling of the toothbrush against your gums. Constantly think, “I am brushing my front teeth. I am brushing my back. I am brushing between my teeth. I am brushing on top of my teeth.” You will notice your mind start to drift away about 10 seconds into this process. Stick with it. It is like trying to train a puppy. Your attention span is going to feel really short. But with practice, you will be able to start mindfully brushing your teeth with ease.

All of this “staying in the moment” talk might seem pointless to you. You might be asking yourself, “how can mindfulness benefit me?” Our brain tends to play funny tricks on us. We often catastrophize small events and snowball them into huge disasters with a life-changing meaning. You might notice this happening when you’re trying to plan an event and you realize that you need to get the food, the decorations, the music, invitations, and so on and so forth, until the event seems impossible. If you take this opportunity to be mindful, you can focus on only the guest list and the beautiful cards you are going to mail. Tackling something one step at a time and being present while you do it will alleviate the majority of the stress.

When I first heard of mindfulness practice, I was skeptical as well. I decided to practice small tasks while staying in the here and now. I had a difficult time staying present because I have the attention span of a fly. However, I found mindfulness extremely beneficial when I completed my first triathlon. I got about 20 strokes in to my open water ocean swim and had a minor panic attack. I started thinking about how far I still had to go and the fact that the swim was only the first leg of the race. My brain went into overload worrying about how there was no way I could finish this race because the bike and the run were only going to get harder. I pulled my head out of the water and took a 30 second time out to regroup. I treaded water and realized how refreshing the ocean felt on this warm summer morning. I decided to take the race one stroke, one pedal, one step at a time. Staying in the moment allowed me to enjoy my experience and feel a sense of accomplishment when I sprinted across the finish line.

If you want more information on mindfulness and how it can apply to your daily life, please view this short presentation by Andy
Puddicombe on Ted Talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzR62JJCMBQ

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