How can you think about that serenity nonsense when you're in a traffic jam with kids screaming in the back seat, thawing groceries and deadlines all looming — tomorrow?
We don’t often put our attention anywhere specific, so it gets pulled into our persistent mental jabber, like a kid who can’t stop asking for candy. But you can actually learn to put your attention somewhere else on purpose through a process called mindfulness.
The focus of many spiritual disciplines is that our ability to be content is affected by our capacity to stay in the present moment. However, most of us have a habit of being mentally absent from what's going on in the present moment. In other words, we aren't "mindful."
"Mindfulness” is a body-mind practice that originated in Zen Buddhism and was first popularized several decades ago by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Scientific research has proven that there are many important benefits of mindfulness (and mindfulness meditation) training. It can help:
Mindfulness is much easier than most people realize. Here are some easy steps to becoming more relaxed, happier and more loving through mindfulness-based focus and meditation:
Become aware of the present moment.
Become aware of your thoughts and your feelings but realize that they do not control you.
For example, as you wash your hands (or your dishes), be aware of the feeling of the water, the scent of the suds, and so on. Concentrate on the sensations of the experience as you breathe slowly.
Sit in a relaxed, comfortable position. Pay attention to the feeling of air as your breath passes in and out of your nostrils. Notice the length, quality and sensations of the breath. Notice the rising and falling of your abdomen with each breath.
When walking, walk slowly and leisurely, and focus on the sensations in your legs and any part of the present moment.
Take a small food item, such as a raisin or a piece of chocolate. Spend time looking at, touching, smelling, anticipating and finally tasting the food, chewing very slowly. Paying close attention to your senses when it comes to food may change the way you perceive it.
Author Alfred James suggests "the game of five," in which you carefully notice five things in your daily life, such as the flowers in your yard, the wind on your face, sensations of the clothing you wear or other everyday connections. Change these items every day.
Anyone can use these simple mindfulness techniques throughout the day to stay calm, focused, and even kind and cheerful. You have the power to consciously guide your thoughts — to focus in and out on specific things in our surroundings and inside our minds.
With these steps as a start, you can start to feel happier, more content and more loving toward others (and yourself) in a short time. Just keep practicing, and take it a breath at a time!
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