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What is Mindfulness?


Original photograph by Sandy Chase.
A few months ago, I put together the following mission statement for myself as I try to improve the way I live my life, based upon what I announced as my primary value:  mindfulness.
I believe that people put blinders on themselves, and do what others want them to do, and my mission is to help take those blinders off them.
I want to show people how to look at what things in the world are causing their issues, and help them to solve those problems the way that is right for them. This will be different for every person as we are all unique, but being able to discover those factors is a skill that can be learned.
Knowing the external factors that are causing problems is the first step in learning to control those factors and removing them if necessary.
It's launched me into a mission to increase my knowledge regarding ways to do this, and to discover ways to keep our minds working to always see what we do to ourselves, good or bad.

But what exactly is mindfulness?  Some people like to talk about it in a spiritual sense - becoming one with the universe and such.  That's certainly part of it - spirituality can help to release a lot of the clutter of life and reunite us with our real passions and loves.

Some people like to talk about it in an external way - being aware of everything that goes on around them so that they can respond to it best.  And that's also certainly part of it.

But to truly understand mindfulness, to me, is a combination of these two things.  

We have to know what is happening in our own lives.  What is making us feel the way we do about our situation?  What is driving us to do the things we do?  These questions need to be considered in physical, mental, and emotional realms.

Physical: what external factors are acting upon our bodies to get us where we want to go in life, and what factors are keeping us from getting there?

Mental:  what knowledge, habits, and beliefs do we have that are helping to achieve our goals, and what knowledge, habits, and beliefs are keeping us from getting there.

Emotional:  why do we want to achieve the goals we set for ourselves, and are they really serving us?  What attitudes and emotions do we have about the world that are helping or hindering us as we achieve this knowledge?

Each of these realms can be expanded upon greatly, obviously - whole encyclopedias of knowledge on these topics have been written by more enlightened beings than I and will thankfully continue to be written.  But we all have to have a starting point, and this is mine.

A while back, I read a book called Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by Dr. David R. Hawkins.  In it, Dr. Hawkins teaches a technique of the constant asking of questions to get to the root of a problem, and letting go of each answer as you come to each conclusion.  That technique, which can be applied in different ways to different emotions, is easily transferable out to other issues in the mental and physical realm.

And to me, that's what mindfulness is: the process of taking inventory of the inputs in our lives and examining their effects on us.

Let's look at a physical example:  I'm not feeling well all of a sudden one afternoon.  I know that certain foods make me feel nauseous or give me some "gastric distress."  So I examine my food intake for the past few days, and try to figure out likely culprits.  I come across a food that may have some ingredients that I don't know 100% - say, I ate at a specific restaurant for lunch yesterday.  I can try to use the internet to examine those ingredients, or do an experiment where I take a week or two off from that restaurant and then go back, and may careful attention to my health and wellness after that.  If a week goes by with no repeat of the symptoms, then it wasn't that.  Otherwise, I have my culprit.

Or a mental example:  I keep finding myself running out of time on projects.  Is there something I'm doing that is causing that hangup?  I take a look at my habits and work processes and figure out where I'm getting hung up.  Perhaps I spend too much time on research when less would be adequate.  Perhaps there's a task I'm doing that could be more efficiently done with a new computer program or web page.

You get the picture.  The constant practice of evaluating what's happening in our lives on all levels and being aware of as much as possible is mindfulness.

It sounds like a lot of work, and initially it is.  But like anything, proper practice makes perfect.  Start it today - pick an item or two in your life that you feel is holding you back and examine it.  Ask yourself questions and accept all answers.  Release yourself from the opinions about whether those answers are good or bad, judging them entirely on the mindset of "is this serving me?".

And then write it down somewhere that you can come back to.  A journal is great for this sort of thing.

With a little practice and some proper recording, you can create yourself a great life full of happiness and success with some great mindfulness.

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