The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “To pay attention, that is our endless and proper work.” Mindfulness is the capacity to place our attention on some aspect of experience in the present moment. We notice that which has been outside of our conscious awareness. When we are mindful, we observe the thoughts, reactions, feelings, and so forth motivating our actions. We do this without judgment of ourselves, or others. We also notice what is happening outside us. We slow down and intentionally use our senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste) to take in our environment. As we pay attention internally and externally, we are present. We live in the moment, rather than in the future with its unknowns or the past with its regrets.
When we practice mindfulness, even for short bursts of time each day, we cultivate curiosity and wonder, gentleness and kindness, peace and calm, and above all, compassion for ourselves and all living things. Research shows that mindfulness is one of the best antidotes for anxiety. As we live in these immensely anxious days and weeks in our communities, countries, and world, mindfulness can instill us the resilience we all need.
Simple Mindful Practices to Get You Started
- Choose a comfortable, quiet place to sit. Put your feet flat on the floor, and place your hands comfortably on your legs.
- Breathe in and out, paying attention to your body. Notice the sensations in your nose, chest, abdomen, and back with each full breath.
- When your mind drifts off, gently place your attention back on your breath. Notice your thoughts rather than trying to change them.
In mindful pausing, we step outside our frantic rushing and mindless march through our long to-do list. For a few moments, we cease racing from one thing to another. We set down our devices. We place our attention on our experience in the present moment. We notice what we are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling. Pauses like this not only calm us down but also attune us to goodness, love, and hope, all of which we need when inundated with devastating news. To begin this practice, choose a few times daily that you intend to purposely pause, e.g., in between work phone calls, before and after homeschooling your kids, as you drink your morning coffee. Over time, increase the number and duration of your pauses.
S: Stop. Take a momentary break from whatever you are doing.
T: Take a breath. Breathe in and breathe out. Pay attention to your breath and the sensations in your body as you breathe intentionally and slowly.
O: Observe. Notice what is happening inside of you and outside of you. What are you thinking? What is your mind doing? What are you feeling? What do you see and hear and smell and taste? What is happening around you?
P: Proceed. Return to what you were doing, or make a change and so something different based on what you notice during this STOP.