This is one of the most common questions that comes up with students who are starting to practice mindfulness or are curious about it. At first glance, mindfulness seems to fly in the face of our driven-goal-oriented lives. To let go and be in the moment can seem like giving up, giving in and never getting off the couch again. It seems to imply a letting go of doing, and just being. In other words, doing nothing.
Until you start to practice it.
Indeed, it does mean letting go of an outcome, but certainly not letting go of your goals, your vision or your desires. You just might enjoy your journey more along the way, and be open to bigger, better outcomes or twists and turns along the way.
First, let’s remember what being mindful actually is: being aware in the present moment.
Being aware, being awake, being conscious to what is happening, without judgement.
It is not some acquired state that you ‘get’ or ‘achieve’. You don’t become someone else: someone who is peaceful, calm and non-judgemental.
Anger doesn’t disappear, you are just more likely to notice the sensations of it. Emotions like blame, jealousy, sadness, meanness, fear all arise and fall, but the resistance or reaction TO it and all the fall-out becomes unnecessary. Emotions rise and fall, sometimes they call for a response, sometimes not.
It means you become who you are. In that moment.
In fact, if you do not practice being and valuing this present moment along the way to achieving your goals, the mindset of devaluing the present moment will still be there and you will miss it completely! Like climbing Mt. Everest to take a glance at the view, tick off the ‘done’ box and run back down. What is the point of that?
You will never lose your ‘edge’. In fact, your edge will be like a finely tuned instrument, open and aware, and ready to respond or, not respond and waste precious energy. I see so much ‘flapping about’ in this world and it’s hard not to get sucked into the drama of the news or your neighbour, but you can learn to discern what to best put your energy into, and therefore get more energy out.
For a small example, I was walking my dog this morning on our usual mountain trail. The sun was rising and I looked out over the city where I now live with full gratitude, appreciation, calm and that overwhelming sense that all is well in this moment.
Suddenly everything changed and Bella took off barking down the slope in the direction that led to a very busy road.
And out ran 4 deer who scattered in all directions.
To put it mildly, I freaked out.
In reality, my heart rate increased, my muscles tightened, my vision became narrow and focussed and my chest tightened…
I ran, screaming her name and pictured her already darting into traffic. No response. Now I was mad and I couldn’t run through the thick bush.
I realized quickly that I had no control now so I stopped flapping around. I stopped, waited, then walked, breathing rapidly.
Thankfully she appeared out of nowhere. I put her on leash and we continued our walk. Previous years I might have cuffed her on the ears I was so angry, cursed and ran home to tell my family about my scare to which they would have all responded differently from blame to relief. Oh the drama!
From calm to anger in a split second.
From peace to fear and back down again within 5 minutes.
And I could feel it all happening.
My nervous system’s fight-or-flight alarm was working well.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly emotions can rise and fall, and how we perpetuate them if we attach a story or meaning to them, and then believe the story as truth.
“This dog is bad.” “I hate my partner.” “I will never succeed.” “It’s all their fault.” “Life sucks.” All reflect momentary feelings.
The problem comes when we have not learned to be mindful to them before letting them escape out of our mouths.
You will never lose the ability to respond to the situation at hand. Research shows that not only will you rise to whatever is calling you, but you will also be more focussed, clear and ready. Mindfulness allows us to react when necessary and respond mindfully when necessary. Not perfectly, but more presently.
Yes, you will still react, but you might catch it at least in hindsight, and let go of any story about how you ‘should’ have been. We can only ever, ever, behave at our level of consciousness at the time. Does anyone get it right all the time? Nope.
When we open to an awareness of the present moment, we access who we are now. Guilt, regret and anxiety of the past drops away, and anxiety and fear of the future are no more. You are here.
The harder part comes in realizing this for others. It is also true that other people only ever behave at their level of consciousness at the time. Remember the times you have harmed people, hurt them or acted unconsciously in a way you never would now?
There might be a part of you that says ‘Yes, but never like that person’. Perhaps, but how about you let that mean girl/bully boy out and set them free? Don’t repress them, it gives them more power to judge and blame others. It’s ok… we are all a symphony of all the notes, just some get played more than others.
So, mindfulness is not a state of mind. It is a way of being in the present moment, with whatever that state of mind is.
We are so used to telling ourselves how we ‘should’ be and only playing to a middle octave when we actually want to play the whole piano and be ok with it.
Here is your ‘get out of jail free’ card for a happy life: Be as you are right now.
If you haven’t already, download my free PDF ‘Turn Fear into Freedom in 3 Easy Steps” right here.
May you have a wonderful day,
Madeleine Eames is a mindfulness teacher, writer and psychotherapist. She blends psychology and eastern traditions of meditation and yoga to help people let go of fear and live in freedom. Join her free Facebook group here: Fear to Freedom: Reclaim Your True Self’.