Mindfulness is what I call “the basic tool for a joyful life.” It’s really about being present for your life. When you’re mindful you know what’s actually happening right now without getting lost in the stories our mind is continually creating. It awakens joy in several ways. First, mindfulness helps us wake up from our confusion by grounding us in our actual experience. Coming back to this moment interrupts that momentum of ruminations about the past or future or grumbling about the present. It’s like pressing the “clear” button on a calculator. It doesn’t matter how complex the numbers have gotten, once you press that “C” button you have a fresh start. When you begin to lose perspective and your mind is spinning out in fear or confusion, bring your awareness to your body and take a few mindful breaths or feel your feet on the ground. This will often stop the momentum and wake you up from your troubling self-created movie.
One course participant shared her experience of how some mindful breathing interrupted her negative thinking:
- When I find myself falling into a negative abyss, more often than before, a little voice says, “You aren’t being present. You aren’t in the moment. Come back to the moment.” All of a sudden I’m able to snap out of it and be present. I’m then able to find something in that moment to enjoy or at least notice without judgment.
When you’re mindful, you aren’t looking for your present experience to be different. Instead of toppling forward hoping the next moment will be better, you are with this moment just as it is. Even more than just accepting what’s here, you can actually slow down enough to develop an interest in what’s happening. In doing so, you see the present moment is complete without anything needed to be added or taken away. A great Chinese Zen master from the 6th Century describes this perspective: “The Great Way is like vast space where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.” We can train ourselves to not only be here for the wonderful, entertaining moments, but to see that every moment of life is worthy of our attention. We can awaken and learn from the difficult ones as well as enjoy the lovely ones when they are here. This is the real gift of practicing mindfulness meditation. Every moment becomes a vehicle for waking up to life.
When we realize the present moment has everything we need, we feel contented. This is what my wife, Jane, says on this topic: “Sometimes I think I want more because it will make me happier when really the best thing to do is to settle back and be happy in this moment.” That is precisely how mindfulness works. This moment is enough when we’re really here for it. One course participant came to this understanding on her own:
- I didn’t have any specific plans for this evening and was wondering what I would do to fill an evening that was beginning to feel a little too open and tending toward lonely. While I fed the pets I wondered what I was going to do. While I started preparing dinner, I wondered what I was going to do. When I was walking my dog I was still wondering what I was going to do — and then I realized that I was already doing what I was going to do. And I decided to be present and enjoy it!
By bringing enough interest to this moment to give it our attention, mindfulness activates the natural curiosity with which we all come into this world—the same sense of wonder and awe that delights a child. There’s magic all around us if we take the time to see it. Ever reflect on how two people with cell phones can press a few buttons and speak to each other on opposite sides of the world? Or having a GPS system speak to you and let you know that you need to make a left turn ahead? Isn’t that amazing? How is it possible to read the word “yellow” and see a color or hear the word “peach” and taste a fruit in our minds? We’re often in too much of a hurry to stop and appreciate the wonders of life that are right in front of us. In doing so, we miss much of the richness in our lives. In giving ourselves enough time to not hurry we’re able to notice so much more and life becomes more fulfilling. I realize hurrying is not a habit many of us can easily change. But everything comes more alive when we slow down enough to appreciate it. If you can slow down from time to time you will dramatically increase your sense of well-being. See for yourself how being present for your life makes everything come alive.