I believe it is our nature to share special things with those we love. When we discover something helpful, we want to share it with others we think may benefit from the same experience. So, much like telling your coffee-loving friends all about that new fantastic barista at your local coffee shop or sharing with other parents about that child-whispering pediatric dentist your kids actually like to go to, I want to share with you a few special things on how Mindfulness has been concretely and tangibly helpful for me.
Special thing #1.
The first special thing I'd like to share is rediscovering something that had been there all along. Dormant, but there.
We are all born with abilities. Some are individual and unique to each person; others are universal across all human beings.
For the unique ones, depending on nature and nurture, these individual abilities may develop to different degrees throughout the person's life or stay dormant. For example, think about how some people are born -nature- with the ability to sing, paint, teach, swim, etc. Then, depending on their life circumstances and personal journey, that ability can be -nurtured- into a skill of varying degrees of expertise.
For the universal ones, although they too will be influenced by nurture, the main difference is that they are present in all of us by nature, intrinsic to our human condition. For example, our safety/survival skills, our ability to love and communicate, and, yes, our capacity for awareness.
For me, the most salient way to observe these universal abilities is when I see them play out in young children, the way they instinctively jerk their hand away from a hot surface or create their own language to communicate. My favorite, though, was how I rediscovered my world through my boys' eyes when they were toddlers, how they would bring awareness to mundane things that, with time and age, had sadly and inadvertently become transparent to me. It was revitalizing, and I loved every second of it.
Rebecca Eldridge, the co-founder of East Coast Mindfulness, mindfulness teacher, and my latest speaker, kicked off the evening's conversation by sharing the definition of Mindfulness:
"The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom." -Jon Kabat-Zinn.
She then continued by saying that this mouthful of a definition actually points to how we already have Mindfulness in our lives because we all know how to pay attention and be aware; it's an intrinsic human ability - it's in our nature.
So, if we all have the how, meaning the innate ability to be aware, and awareness is at the foundation of Mindfulness, then why is there such hype about teaching it, training, or practicing it? What's the point?
To explain, I'll go back to what I mentioned about nature and nurture.
Yes, we all have the inherent ability - nature - to pay attention; the how to do it. But the why we do it is where the magic lies. The why will drive how much we decide to - nurture - this ability.
Why do we want to be aware? Why do we want to pay attention?
Special thing #2.
The second special thing I want to share with you is the why: we have this built-in superpower that we can learn to use to improve our quality of life.
It takes intentional practice - nurture - to be aware moment-to-moment without any judgment, just objectively witnessing the present exactly as it is. Using our awareness as a resource to help us learn more about ourselves, our thought patterns, and our emotions takes purposeful practice. We can better understand and moderate our reactions and behaviors by cultivating this inherent ability.
"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." -Aristotle.
Wisdom begins with knowing yourself. Knowing yourself is the first step toward taking control of your life, and good changes occur when we take control of our lives.
Special thing #3.
The third special discovery that I want to share is that being mindful is easy and is not at the same time.
We've learned that Mindfulness is using our awareness in the service of self-understanding and wisdom. The key to cultivating wisdom is being truthful and honest with ourselves, which, at times, can be difficult and scary. Sometimes being honest with ourselves means accepting parts of us that we would prefer to hide from others, that we dislike or perhaps feel ashamed of. Other times being truthful to ourselves hurts, as it may mean revisiting painful experiences or facing deeply engrained fears.
In the same way that exercising at the gym has the dichotomy of producing micro tears in our muscles that hurt but give room for those muscles to strengthen and grow. So does Mindfulness. Facing hard truths and navigating hard times will always, in the end, give way to growth. Self-awareness is one of the keys to growth. A deep understanding of ourselves - wisdom - occurs when we figure out who we really are, what makes us tick, what helps us, and what we are truly striving for, all of which will ultimately help us achieve our goals in life.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's happening around us. -Jon Kabat-Zinn.
The why and how we deal with these situations is what make the difference.
Embracing hardship, be it past or present, is much more challenging and calls for a much deeper level of self-discipline and commitment than engaging in avoidance. Yes, avoidance, as in over drinking, overeating, overworking, over-exercising, oversleeping, etc., may feel easy at the moment, as it allows us to turn a blind eye and pretend it's not happening, giving us a false self of relief. But we all know too well that whatever we have to deal with in our lives will not magically disappear unless we mindfully decide to deal with it once and for all.
At the same time, Mindfulness is easy. Contrary to popular belief, Mindfulness is not cultivated only by formal practices such as sitting alone in silence, on a cushion, in a yogi position with our eyes closed for one solid hour a day. Nor is it done solely to face hardships. Instead, it can also be done in mundane day-to-day situations and in what is known as informal practices. Here's a beautiful example: Rebecca mentioned how she once had a student that felt she was failing at her self-imposed one-hour daily mindfulness practice. Rebecca then asked her student to describe her life at that moment; it turns out she was heavily pregnant with a two-year-old in tow. No wonder she felt she was failing! Although it requires commitment and discipline, Mindfulness is not a set-in-stone practice. Instead, the practice should ebb and flow according to where we are in our lives. As such, Rebecca suggested her student practice Mindfulness by being truly present with her son in the mornings while he drank his bottle and cuddled with her in bed. She encouraged her practice to take that moment and really observe and fully take in her baby boy. That, too, is Mindfulness.
Special thing #4.
Special thing number four is to share my experience of what the results of practicing Mindfulness look like in real life, at least for me.
Practicing being mindful on an ongoing basis in my daily living has helped me develop skills that, in turn, I have applied in both day-to-day and more complicated situations.
My drive to understand myself better is what brought me to pursue the practice of Mindfulness in the first place. In my day-to-day situations, Mindfulness helps me compassionately acknowledge and better address my personal needs. Practicing has helped me recognize and foresee emotional triggers, understand the importance of pausing before reacting and improve my ability to moderate my reactions. I have become more observant of "the little things," in turn, this awareness has gifted me with the capability to relish simple things much more: changes in nature, quiet times, the warmth of a cup of tea in my hands, a soft sweater on a chilly day. Having this deeper level of presence shifts the perception of time, as it frees us from time fleeting by while our mind is caught up in worry or regret about the past or future; hence it's allowed me to live more in the moment and to its fullest. I can confidently say that these learnings have helped me become a better parent and wife and a happier and calmer person overall.
An example of tangible benefits in a more complicated situation would be its impact on my anxiety.
Before delving into these benefits, I would first like to sneak in another special thing I recently learned —the terms state anxiety and trait anxiety and the difference between them.
Some experts — notably psychologist Charles Spielberger — have made a distinction by separating state anxiety from trait anxiety:
State anxiety is a natural human response. You don't need to have an underlying anxiety condition to experience fear when facing uncertainty, risk, or danger.
Trait anxiety refers to anxiety that shows up as part of your personality, not just in stressful situations.
The main difference between state and trait anxiety is that state anxiety is fleeting, whereas trait anxiety lingers and is an inherent part of who a person is.
Thanks to some pretty dominant family genes that have diligently passed down from generation to generation, I am the lucky recipient of trait anxiety. I've had it for as long as I can remember. I can recall with exact precision every period in my life when I have gone through a cycle of anxiety. For many years I did not quite understand what and why I felt the way I sometimes did; it wasn't until I was in my late 20s that I discovered, to my relief, that I had anxiety, and only in my late 30s did I begin to embrace and harness it. I honestly could not have said this in my teens or early twenties, but I feel blessed to say it now as a middle-aged woman: I am grateful for my anxiety. Don't get me wrong; I still hate feeling it; it's scary and uncomfortable. But I have truly embraced that I am NOT my anxiety, in the same way that I am not my brown hair or brown eyes. Anxiety is a part of me; I have anxiety as I have brown hair and eyes. Who I am is a result of my strengths and struggles, and my anxiety and other traits are what make me – 'me.' Mindfulness has been hands down one of the most valuable tools, amongst others, I have used in learning how to understand, manage and accept my anxiety.
Ruminating thoughts and what-ifs scenarios with a penchant for catastrophizing are hallmarks of anxiety. Mindfulness calls us to witness thoughts as if they were passing clouds in the sky, to acknowledge them for what they are - "a thought" or "thinking" - and detach any emotions. Learning to separate myself from my thoughts instead of unwillingly getting pulled down rabbit holes has been life-changing. Understanding that thoughts are simply ideas that exist in our mind as a representation (of something comprehended) or as a formulation (of a plan) and that they are not always truths revolutionized my relationship with my anxiety. It empowered me to harness it instead of it controlling me.
It's important to clarify that I am not saying Mindfulness is the cure-all to mental health, nor is it a substitution for medical intervention if and as needed. What I am saying is that Mindfulness is yet another helpful tool (free and innate!) that can make a positive difference in our lives. This is my personal experience, one that I consider special and worthy of sharing with others.
Practicing Mindfulness daily, either formally (sitting meditation) or informally (being wholly present while I walk, eat or wash the dishes), has helped strengthen the skill of purposefully separating myself from my thoughts. So now, whenever I go through an anxiety cycle, I am aware of what I'm going through, which helps me put things in perspective and regain objectivity. It also allows me to be more compassionate and forgiving of myself - acceptance and humbleness. The ability to self-ground enables me to think more clearly, and as a result, I am better equipped to calm my nervous system when I need to.
Overall, Mindfulness has given me the skills and mindset that have concretely helped me (1) decrease the intensity of the anxiety I feel during these cycles and (2) shorten the length of the cycles per se. That's what the results of Mindfulness (along with other resources particular to this scenario) look like in real life for me. A tangible improvement in my quality of life.
I've poured my heart into sharing all the benefits I have experienced. Each of us is different; in our journeys, circumstances, goals, and aspirations, yet we all have a universal yearning to live a happy, peaceful and purposeful life. You have it in you; we all do. So, I would encourage you to give it a try, fine-tuning as you go based on your needs and where you are in your life at any given time. Remember to be kind to yourself; it's a journey, not a destination.
Special thing #5.
To finish, I'd like to share one last special thing: an excerpt from the mindful lovingkindness meditation, which is my deepest wish for you all.
"May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease." -Sharon Salzberg
For more on Rebecca Eldridge's work you may visit her website @