Mindfulness, that eastern meditative practice you’ve been hearing and reading all about, can sometimes be a difficult thing to understand. What exactly are you supposed to “do?” The definition, which is difficult in itself because there is no one agreed upon definition, is also vague; purposely bringing your attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Many people read that and say “Thanks, but you haven’t really told me how.” Well, here’s one way to think about mindfulness in three steps; I, Here, Now.
Before I explain these three steps, it’s important to note that there are no formal “rules” or ways of doing or engaging in mindfulness. While people talk about a “Mindfulness Practice,” it’s not set or regimented like many other exercises or practices can be. Mindfulness is itself a pretty generic term about a state of being; mindfulness refers to people who are so focused on one particular moment with no real attachment to it, so that it can pass and you can attend to the next moment. And the next. And the next. So, while this is one way of thinking about mindfulness, do a simple google search and you’ll find thousands of articles highlighting other ways to be mindful. In that way, mindfulness is an ultimately flexible “practice” that you can fit into whatever you’re already doing, and can be molded to you.
Now back to our three steps, beginning with “I.” “I” refers to you and what is happening in your internal world. “I” asks you to take a look inside and become aware of your thoughts and feelings. Your urges and desires. To practice this, start by noticing what thoughts are taking up space in your mind, and see if you can let them pass out of your head so that you can see what comes up next. Then notice what your feeling and where your feelings reside in your body? Do you feel them in your chest, like that heavy lead jacket the dentist puts on your when you get x-rays taken, or is it lighter like butterflies tickling the inside of your ribcage? What about your body? Are your muscles tightened or relaxed? Come back to those thoughts … are there any that keep coming up even after you let them pass? See if you can just notice all of this that’s going on inside your body and don’t try to get caught up in making sense of it all or understanding why it’s there, just let it be there.
The next step in our mindfulness journey is “here.” This takes the focus outside of yourself and into your immediate surroundings. For this, you can start by noticing what’s around you, the physical “things” in your world. What are the things you can touch, that you can see, hear, and smell. What do they feel/look/sound/smell like? What information are you getting from your senses about the world around you that you expected to get, and what didn’t you expect to get. Once you’ve spent some time in the physical world around you, you can start to think about the less tangible world, specifically the feeling that you’re getting from your environment. Is it buzzing with excitement, or giving you the chills from fear? Is there a sense of camaraderie and connection, or a feeling of distance and awkwardness? Again, there’s nothing to “do” with these observations except know that they are there and make a note of them.
Finally, we focus on “now.” Unlike the “I” and “here” steps, “now” isn’t the same kind of practice. “Now” refers to the fact that your brain is a really remarkable object. It has the ability to gather all this information and understand amazingly complex ideas. It also has the ability to time-travel; your brain can take you back to a trip you took with your family when you were in grade school, and it can even take you to the future to imagine that trip you might take next year. These abilities your brain has are pretty awesome, and helpful, at times, like when you’re planning that trip and when you’re connecting with others about times you’ve shared. And, at other times, that ability to mind-wander can be really, really difficult and distracting. So “now” is a constant reminder to notice when your mind is wandering (“what am I going to do later for dinner”) or getting stuck on an idea (“oh, I hate that about myself. I always do that, I really need to understand why …”) and to pull yourself back to this moment in time. “Now” is the rope that ties you to the dock of the present moment, keeping you from drifting off into a the ocean of your mind.
I, Here, Now is a nice and helpful way to practice mindfulness, and you can see that it’s flexible enough that you can do it anywhere! You don’t need 5 quiet minutes to practice (although, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few quiet minutes to yourself, it can even be quite beneficial!), and you don’t need anything in order to do it. See if you can use this technique to increase your own mindfulness and create a “mindful practice” for yourself!