There are quite a few interpretations of Mindfulness and I won’t pretend to be an expert or even offer a precise definition. I liken it to the various religions around the world. It’s not so much, which is right or wrong, but more of believing in and practicing your chosen flavor. By practicing Mindfulness, you will be more productive, better focused, and you’ll enjoy the heck out of life.
I first heard about Mindfulness at a learning conference years ago and was fascinated by the process and potential for living, or “being,” in the present moment. I’d been practicing it myself for years without knowing it’s name – every night while drinking in a sunset.
Mindfulness shows up everywhere in eastern religions and cultures but is almost a no-show in the west. That is changing now that so many have discovered how the virtues of yoga and meditation can bring peace to a frantic life.
I found it intriguing that a neuroscientist, Dr. Shanida Nataraja, posits that in the western world, people rely on the left hemisphere of the brain too much. When you think about it, he’s right.
The left hemisphere of the brain is logical, analytical, and rational, which focuses on Math, Science, Writing, Language, and Logic. All of these fit squarely in the middle of what we’re teaching in schools, doing at work, and even playing with if you count how much time we spend texting.
The right brain functions in the realm of spatial, visual, non-verbal and abstract thought. Its playground is in activities involving Music, Creativity, Imagination, Dimensional places and Emotional expression. Sorta sounds like the Arts to me and we don’t spend nearly enough time in those areas in school or work let alone play.
Dr. Nataraja is correct in his statement that westerners spend too much time in the left brain by “doing” and not enough time in the right brain by “being.” Hey, we can’t help it, that’s just our way of life. We have bills to pay and homework to do and it all takes time, something we never have enough of in a seemingly short day.
But here’s the rub: all of this “doing” puts our minds in frantic mode and we feel pressured and stressed to get through it all. Our brains have so much to think about, and so many distractions that we never really focus on the task at hand and our minds wander to everything else we forgot to do earlier, or we still need to do later in the day. Instead of focusing our attention on the task at hand, like working, listening to a teacher’s lecture, doing homework, or even driving a car, we live our lives on auto-pilot, haphazardly thinking about too many things at once. The result is inefficiency and stress.
I said I wouldn’t get into a formal definition, but my own personal take on it is “being in the moment” or focusing all of your attention on whatever it is you are doing at the time.
I learned how to practice it by using the example of a raisin, but I prefer to practice the Mindfulness of Pizza. You can use anything you want, I just happen to have a pizza fetish so I’ll explain it that way.
Take a slice of pizza with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms. Focusing all of your attention on the pizza and nothing else, pick it up and truly examine it. How does it feel? Is it hot or just warm? Does it flop and need to be folded or is it rigid and able to be held in one hand? Can you see all of the ingredients or are they buried beneath the cheese? What does it smell like? Can you smell each ingredient? If it simply smells like pizza you aren’t focusing enough. That’s better, now you can smell the pepperoni, and there’s the sausage. If I’ve offended any vegetarians just pretend your pizza has mushrooms, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts.
Now take a bite but don’t eat it yet, just let it sit in your mouth taking in everything. Slowly begin to chew it. Is the crust soft or crunchy? Is it spicy or sweet? Is the cheese greasy? Can you pick out the flavors of each topping? How does it compare to other pizza you’ve eaten? Now swallow it. Is there an after taste? Did anything stick to your teeth?
Did you notice anything about that bite of pizza that you never noticed before? Maybe it was a certain spice used in the sauce. Or the crust was crunchier than you thought before eating it. Focusing all of your attention on the pizza and ONLY the pizza, it makes the experience of eating pizza more enjoyable. You are experiencing it in a way like never before. You are AWARE of the pizza and maybe think more about how it was made or where the ingredients came from. And without even thinking about it, you are probably more relaxed than before this experiment because you put everything else out of your mind. This is Mindfulness.
Certain professionals use Mindfulness in their daily lives without even thinking about it. They just do it. A professional baseball player takes batting practice and his only purpose is to hit a fastball speeding 90 miles per hour directly at him. Without Mindfulness, he would fail. He must be completely centered on only the ball and his bat. He doesn’t hear the other players around him, or his coach. He doesn’t feel the 80-degree sun baking him, and he certainly isn’t thinking about forgetting to pay his car insurance. He is one with the ball. If your son plays baseball, you’ve probably taught him about the same thing at the batting cages. If he can hit the ball, he knows what it’s like to be in that moment.
Teaching kids about Mindfulness is easier than you think. Take note of their state of mind next time they’re playing a video game or watching their favorite TV show. Their entire focus is on the moment. Mindfulness is something they will use the rest of their lives. They already know how to do it. Making them understand what Mindfulness is and how to practice it with everything they do will make them more focused, productive, and hopefully live a happier and more fulfilling life.
Understanding Mindfulness is easy. The hard part is transferring the knowledge into practice that they can use at school while listening to the teacher, or at home when doing homework. This will make them more successful not only in school but in everything they do in life. They will be better at sports, driving the car, or just hanging out with friends and paying attention. When they get really good at it, have them practice it while cleaning their room.