Pay Attention in the Present Moment
Robert Gardner, Ph.D., LPC
Mindfulness is a practice that has become more and more popular in recent times as many people seek to find a new way of coping with an increasingly busy and stressful life. The definition of mindfulness is quite simple—deliberately paying attention in the present moment without judgment by being fully aware of what’s happening both inside yourself and all around you. The good news is virtually everyone has the capacity to be mindful. It just requires a desire and discipline to realize.
There are seven attitudinal elements to developing mindful awareness. Together they constitute the foundation upon which you will be able to build a strong meditation practice.
7 Foundations of Mindful Awareness
When we begin to pay attention to what we are thinking, it is common to discover and be surprised by how often we generate judgments about our experiences. Judgments tend to dominate our minds, making it difficult for us ever to find any peace within ourselves.
Mindfulness requires you assume the position of an impartial witness to your experiences by simply observing them. This means instead of getting caught up in the activity in your mind, you learn to step back from it. When practicing mindfulness, you don’t have to stop your mind from judging. Rather all that is required is that you are aware it is happening.
Patience is a form of wisdom. It reflects our understanding and acceptance of the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.
We cultivate patience in our minds and bodies when practicing mindfulness. Practicing patience reminds us that we don’t have to constantly fill our moments with activity and thinking in order for the moments to be meaningful. To be patient is simply to be completely open to each moment, accepting that things can only unfold in their own time.
See Everything as if for the First Time
- Beginner’s Mind
Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are. To truly experience the present moment, we need to experience it through what has been called “beginner’s mind,” a mind that is willing to see everything as if it is being seen for the first time.
When practicing mindfulness, approach each experience with a beginner’s mind to open up new possibilities and to keep from seeing things in the same way. No two moments are the same—each is unique and contains unique possibilities. Beginner’s mind reminds us of this simple truth.
Trusting yourself and your feelings is an important part of mindfulness. It is far better to trust your own instincts, even if you make mistakes along the way, than always looking outside yourself for guidance.
By practicing mindfulness, you are practicing taking responsibility for being the person you are and learning to trust yourself. The more you cultivate this trust in yourself, the easier it becomes to trust other people more and to see their basic goodness as well.
Almost everything we do in a given day is spent for a purpose, to accomplish something or get somewhere. But mindfulness practice is different from all other human activities. Although meditation takes a lot of effort and energy, ultimately it is about “non-doing.” Mindfulness has no other goal than for you to be yourself—trying less and being more in the present moment.
In practice, the best way to achieve mindfulness is to stop striving for results and instead to start focusing on seeing and accepting things as they are, moment by moment.
Accept and Let Go
Acceptance means seeing things as they actually are in the present. Sooner or later we have to come to terms with things as they are and accept them, if we are ever going to be able to begin the work of changing our circumstances. Acceptance does not mean you have to like everything or take a passive attitude or abandon your principles and values.
Acceptance within the context of mindfulness simply means you develop a willingness to see things as they are. In mindfulness practice, acceptance is cultivated by taking each moment as it comes and being with it fully, just as it is.
- Letting Go
We all have certain thoughts and feelings and situations that our minds seem to want to hold on to. Holding on is the opposite of letting go. Letting go is a way of letting things be, of accepting things as they are.
Developing the attitude of letting go is fundamental to the practice of mindfulness. Letting go is not such a foreign experience. We do it every night when we go to sleep, so if you can go to sleep, you are already experienced in letting go.
For more information on mindfulness practice, please consider the following resources.
- Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Calming Your Anxious Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Anxiety, Fear, and Panic by Jeffrey Brantley
- How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays
- Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: umassmed.edu/cfm/stress/index.aspx
- The Mindfulness Summit: themindfulnesssummit.com
Robert Gardner, Ph.D., LPC is Director of Psychosocial Oncology at Touro Infirmary and administers all aspects of Touro’s Supportive Cancer Care Center. Dr. Gardner earned his Ph.D.. from the University of New Orleans in 2008. He completed his Internship at Tulane Cancer Center in 2005, where he also served as Clinical Mental Health Counselor from 2006 – 2008. Dr. Gardner is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Louisiana.