Mindfulness is an effective technique for processing the world around you. Mindfulness is a set of practices, such as deep breathing, meditation, and reflective writing, that lead to a fuller, more productive life. To use the metaphor coined by psychotherapist and author, Carol Vivyan, imagine that your negative feelings and problems are a beach ball floating in the water. Often we try to push the beach ball below the surface, but it will keep floating back up. The harder we try to push it down, the harder it forces itself up. Or we might try to pop the beach ball. Then we are left with the plastic. Mindfulness teaches us to acknowledge the beach ball and stop fighting it, because life is full of pain and suffer, but that is only one part of the experience.
University at Albany senior Lauren Bennis recently led a discussion of mindfulness as part of UAlbany’s first Starving Artists week. Starving Artists is an on-campus club that supports students as they grow and hone their artistic skills. Mental health is a huge part of art. Bennis reported that while the poems that came out of darker periods of her life were beautiful and powerful, those from moments of mindfulness were equally as moving and tended to involve serene nature scenes and connectedness.
In Bennis’s presentation she laid out the tenets of mindfulness and they challenged the audience to see where they are mindful in their own lives and how they could be more connected with others. She explained that mindfulness is about compassion for the self and others. It is about understanding that life is not always perfect and that we are not always perfect but that loving kindness creates room for growth in imperfect moments. It is about being fully in every moment from good to bad. It is about being fully grounded in reality. It is about truly listening when your friend, coworker, or significant other is talking. It is about reflecting on your experiences.
Bennis taught us some techniques for mindfulness. She suggested mindful walking, which is walking without the distractions of music or phones. She suggested repeating the mantra “here” when your mind starts to wander from the moment. Bennis led the audience in guided meditation. She asked everyone to take a relaxed pose and played soothing music. For five minutes the audience listened to her repeat calming phrases between moments of silence. Afterwards, audience members reflected on how the experience moved them. Some had meditated on problems in their lives; others simply felt relaxed.
You can also practice mindfulness. One morning, instead of checking your phone, lie in bed for a few extra minutes. Reflect on a word. This word can be love, hope, loneliness, or anything that moves you. Repeat the word in your mind and see where your thoughts go; this is a first step towards a mindful life.