Many years ago, long before children and health concerns, my husband and I used to enjoy hiking. As we made our way along beautiful northern New England mountain trails, I slowly became immersed in the soothing orchestra of chirping birds, the scent of pine, the orangish brown color of the forest floor and vibrant greens of the leaves above. Sometimes, if we were lucky, bright rays of light would make their way through the branches - giving the forest other-worldly feel. In these moments, far away from the demands of the outside world, a feeling would slowly overtake me. One where there was no yesterday or tomorrow but only the present moment. A sense of peace and calm would slowly work its way into my soul - and sometimes the universe opened and I felt connected to something far greater than myself.
This if mindfulness, the intentional quieting our thoughts and bringing your full awareness to the present moment without judgement. Mindfulness originates from Zen, Vipassana, and Tibetan Buddhist spiritual meditation techniques. In these traditions it is practiced to cultivate a sense interconnection with the universe. In western culture it has been more generally adapted as a means of attaining health and well-being - although many continue use it spiritual purposes.
Mindfulness can be accomplished through formal meditation by sitting in a quite space and fully attending to your breath. Also, as I described above, it can also occur in everyday life when you choose to focus on your senses and give full attention to what is enfolding around you. The practice of mindfulness acknowledges that thoughts will inevitably come to mind. However, when this occurs one gently takes notice of them and lets them slowly move through you without judgment.
Simple right? Not necessarily. Part of what makes us human it the brain's capacity to think about the past and future. All to often this becomes a continuous pattern of worry, stress, overthinking, and self-judgment. However, our interpretation of the past is not a fully accurate representation of reality. It is clouded by our emotional patterns and the brain's imperfect capacity for memory. Further, while we certainly can try to anticipate the future, in reality we don't know how it will unfold. If we become lost in these imperfect thoughts we fail to see the beauty and trueness of the present moment.
In his seminal book Wherever You Go There You Are, John Kabat-Zinn explains, "Mindfulness nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of the present-moment reality. It wakes you up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.”