Without mindfulness practice, the mind is like a sponge that is never rung out: it keeps adding more and more, but after a while it is slower to absorb, and has less clarity. Like a sponge full of water, our minds are full of thoughts: how well can that saturated sponge conduct a simple task like cleaning the dishes? Eventually it can do the job, but not very well.
For instance, we might even be literally cleaning the dishes, but our mind is somewhere else, like rehashing a conversation that we had earlier that day, and maybe we are even judging ourselves—we feel horrible, but all we are actually doing is standing alone in our kitchen just washing the dishes; this moment is uneventful, but our mind is causing us to feel pain. We may not even be aware that we feel horrible or even why we feel that way. Much like that sponge, the mind is saturated by constant thinking, judging, analyzing mostly about everything except what we are doing in any given moment like cleaning the dishes. Like a dog with a bone, the mind gets a hold of a thought and keep thinking, and reacting to the thoughts. Most of the stream of thinking is not necessary, and it even causes suffering; some pain comes in the form of worry when our thoughts are projecting into the future or some are sad when our thoughts are ruminating over the past. Ironically, the thoughts are not matching the current situation. So if we are washing the dishes, we are thinking about everything, but washing the dishes. This is called being in automatic pilot. Practicing mindfulness provides a way to transform that constant, automatic, and unaware thinking into a focused, attentive, and purposeful present moment experience.
Mindfulness practice teaches us what the mind does: it constantly thinks. It teaches us to notice our thoughts, and compassionately allow them to be there—after all, they are just thoughts. We then learn we are not our thoughts and emotions; rather, we have thoughts and emotions. We learn how to find the “pause button,” on constant automatic thinking by focusing our attention on purpose in the present moment—in this case, we will notice all that we do to wash the dishes.
Then we are able to just wash the dishes instead of being distracted by all the thoughts and mind chatter. We may even find that we enjoy washing the dishes—imagine that! We can smell the clean and fresh dish soap, we can feel the warm soapy water on our hands, we can focus on all the colors in the kitchen sink. When our automatic thoughts (mind chatter) do come up, like they do, we are aware of them--present moment awareness brings choice. That is mindfulness; it gives us space to know that we have a choice. When we are not aware of our constant thinking, we don’t know we have the power of choice. We can purposefully allow the thoughts to be there (not minding them) and continue to practice mindful/ present moment awareness. Going back to the dishwashing example, and before you know it, we have finished the task of washing the dishes.
Of course, we can use any task or moment throughout the day to practice mindfulness. Sometimes the hardest part is starting and remembering to practice mindfulness. So when we are first starting to practice presence, it is best to pick an activity that we do throughout the day. For example, every time I wash my hands, I am reminded to do so mindfully. I take a moment to feel the warm soapy water, smell the fresh soap scent and so on. There are other mindfulness practices that we can choose. The simplest path, I always say, is with the breath: the breath is always with us in the present moment, and we don’t need to pack it up, or remember it. With the breath, we can just notice it or take a few deep breaths throughout the day. I suggest to people to pick an activity or a time of the day, when they are reminded to practice. For example, before eating anything, take three deep breaths. Another time to practice mindfulness, might be a student who takes a few deep breaths before taking a test.
When people experience the difference mindful present moment awareness makes in their lives, they are encouraged to maintain it, and that is why I like to teach mindfulness. Everyone’s mind chatters, the inner calm brought by present moment awareness is our natural state. Mindfulness is an empowering tool that everyone of us can do to uncover that calm. It just takes practice.
By Kristin Stiles-Hall, MSW, EMP and Reiki Master
Kristin blends all her training/knowledge and personal experience into a compassionate Holistic Healing practice. She is passionate about health and wellness in her own life. She knows that there is more than one path for healing.For more information visit: