You might have heard of mindfulness by now. It’s quite unlikely that you haven’t. The term pops up everywhere on social media. Hundreds of books were written about the topic, and Harvard Magazine, Psychology Today, and The New York Times are only three renowned resources that have published numerous articles about practicing mindfulness. So what is it, that practice, that ‘mindfulness,’ this word that is on everyone’s lips – and in everyone’s mind?
Mindfulness seems to be the holy grail of the 21st century, Douglas Adam’s number 42, the magic not even mushrooms can provide, and first and foremost an unbeatable sales argument in the health, fitness, meditation, yoga, and self-optimizing industry. Mindful is the hipster, and the hip one is the mindfulness practitioner.
But wait – to be fair – there are other trends we can make fun of, real trends like high-waisted jeans, New Kids on the Block, Bubble tea, neon spandex. Mindfulness is not a trend. It might feel like one, but it isn’t.
Poetically described, we can say that practicing mindfulness is the skill, the art, the ability to live fully in the present moment without being distracted by destructive thinking, namely ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. You don’t give a sh*t about your past or future? Congratulations. You might have hit the mindfulness jackpot, being on a successful mindfulness journey, and living a life full of happiness. What if you don’t? Then don’t be ashamed. You are not alone. And you are ok.
Here is my secret confession for you: I have been teaching mindfulness practices – yoga and meditation – and I have been a mindfulness practitioner for over a decade. Guess what? Despite my regular meditation practice, all the mindfulness skills I have, and all the mindfulness techniques I theoretically can master, I still experience anxiety in my daily life. I am still worried about my future. I regret things I have done or not have done in the past. Does this mean mindfulness is just a theoretical construct, a cloud castle, fiction? Does this mean I am not able to be mindful? Yes, very often it does.
But it also means that I am human, far away from being flawless. And so are you. We all are the same, being in the same boat. We are sailing through the ocean of life, getting bored by the still sea and worried about the next storm. One day we are seasick, sunburned, and in pain. Other days we enjoy the fresh salty air (yes, mindful breathing!) and the wind in our hair.
Practicing mindfulness means navigating the boat with awareness when navigatable, focusing on the instruments we have and are skilled enough to use. Being mindful also means letting the boat float when nothing is happening that we can control, accepting the circumstances, the feeling, the negative emotion, the physical sensation.
Being mindful is not a choice. (As being happy isn’t one either. Stop posting those memes, people! Nobody with a free-will chooses depression over happiness.)
Quite often, mindfulness is just a bitch holding up a mirror to our face, showing us our weaknesses, causing pain, grief, and struggles. Making us feel life in its purest essence. And that’s why I love mindfulness so much. Because being mindful is a chance to change. Every single mindfulness practice – whether it’s a walking meditation, mindful breathing, eating with awareness, stress reduction techniques, or exploring bodily sensations – allows us to look deep inside and to go on a journey of self-discovery.
Mindfulness training not only shows us the pathway to our hidden dark side. It also provides us with the light switch that operates our conscious awareness, compassion, tolerance, intuition, and general presence.