I know, I know, mindfulness is nothing new. But it is still astonishingly hard to incorporate into our everyday lives. Personally, I struggle with it mightily. Every time I fixate on the past, I’m letting a bygone version of myself take control. Every time I talk down to myself, I’m sending the message that all my dreams, hopes, wishes, and determinations are stupid and futile. I slip unthinkingly into negative patterns that degrade my self-worth and make me think others think less of me as well.
So lately I’ve been thinking about ways I can draw myself back to the center of who I really am instead of spreading my energy all over every neurosis or psychosis that pops into my madly whirring little brain. And though I was already planning this post this morning, the heavens must have aligned, because in inbox I found not one but two emails about this very subject.
From the very wise Barrie Davenport comes the post Mindfulness Practice: 8 Powerful Benefits, which advocates actively, intentionally staying in the present as a way to reduce stress, improve memory, stop negative overthinking and reduce emotional reactivity. It also, she says, reduces fear, makes us more flexible thinkers, betters our relationships and improves sleep. Sounds terrible.
And according to the University of California, Berkeley’s blog The Greater Good, mindfulness even plays into body image. Students who approach situations open-mindedly and live in the moment as opposed to the past or present are more accepting of their bodies, indicating that acceptance of outside events is correlated with inner acceptance. However, a lot of time spent observing emotions and thoughts tempered this acceptance, indicating the students might be better off if they avoided this other aspect of mindfulness. Food for thought indeed.
For me, the important idea here is not that we can feel better about how we look or get more sleep, although those are incredibly important benefits that I wouldn’t mind reaping. But to me, the takeaway is that we have control over our thoughts and the effects they have on our lives. When I spend too much time in my head, in the past, and in the glorious future (which is never quite as glorious as it promises to be), I’m not as happy. Staying in the present moment can help reduce the emotional weight I put on myself.
That, in turn, leaves me with more energy to pursue the things I really care about: writing, art, food, family, friends. And fine, I admit it: sleep too.