Perhaps instead of “mindfulness” it should be called “mind emptiness,” because truly being mindful requires being present, and we can’t be present if our minds are cluttered with thoughts of what just happened (also known as the past) or what is about to happen (aka the future.)
Consider for a moment how many thoughts you have that are only about what is happening right now. If you’re anything like me, you may be shocked to realize that most of your mental energy is spent on things that already happened or haven’t happened yet and very little is paid to what is actually happening now. There is something to be said for reflection and planning, but there is also something we can observe in how much mental energy we invest in fruitless ventures.
Perhaps you can relate to the following examples of how my mental chaos has manifested:
I have exhausted myself and spent entire days trying to figure out possible futures, my mind spinning and weaving scenarios that didn’t get me any closer to a resolution.
I’ve spent countless hours ruminating on past events with my ego operating as lawyer, accused, and judge, as it gathered evidence, presented cases for and against, proclaimed my innocence or guilt and doled out punishment for my so-called offenses.
I have tormented myself with the guilt of unloving thoughts, the pain of unloving interpretations of other people’s actions, and the shame of finding myself lacking in love.
I have worried about future events and regretted past mistakes until it made me sick mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Like a person having a nightmare who doesn’t understand that the torture they are experiencing is only in their mind, I didn’t know that the anguish I was experiencing was based on completely made-up thoughts. I didn’t understand that I had turned the power of my mind against my self like a weapon. If there was anyone who ever needed mind healing it was me.
The first and most helpful thing we can be aware of in practicing mindfulness is the difference between being caught up in our thoughts and being present. We can begin to notice things that are actually happening right now, instead of what we are thinking about. We can practice getting out of our heads and connecting with the body. We can take time to pause, breathe deeply, and feel, notice, and listen.
Try this practice for about thirty seconds:
Close your eyes.
Feel your body breathe.
Feel the clothes and the air on your skin.
Listen to the all the layered sounds around you.
(Go ahead and try it right now. I’ll wait for you.)
Notice if anything has shifted energetically. What are you feeling now?
During the practice of present moment awareness perhaps you become aware of the process of thinking, watching yourself think, noticing the thoughts you are thinking. Maybe you tune into the sensations you are feeling in your body, whether they are comfortable or uncomfortable. Maybe you notice a lack of feeling. Any and all of these are simple yet profoundly useful approaches. And the really amazing thing? It doesn’t matter what you feel, if anything.
That’s right - it doesn’t matter if you get present and don’t notice anything. Or if you notice you feel great or terrible. It doesn’t matter if you feel totally disconnected and like a complete loser. It doesn’t matter if you feel like an ascended master.
It’s not your observed state that is empowering or healing, it’s your willingness to observe it.
Getting present in and of itself is helpful regardless of what your experience of the practice is. Simply checking in with yourself, noticing what is actually happening right now in your mind, your emotions, and your body is healing. It’s a wonderful way to be there for yourself and build stronger communication with aspects of the mind/body complex, which has much to share with you.
Your body, like that of all animals, lives in the present. When you are present with your body, your body will feel more at ease and you will be able to receive more of the rich information it is constantly sharing with you. When you are present with your emotions, you will feel less rocked by their waves and be able to roll more gracefully with their ebb and flow. You will also learn what they have to teach you. When you are present with your thoughts you will learn more about your conditioned beliefs, your mind, and how it works. With more of this valuable awareness comes more possibility for choice. And after a while, believe it or not, you will even begin to choose which thoughts you think. It’s all possible when you dwell in the present.