These days, the term “mindfulness” gets thrown out a lot and it’s got some of us scratching our heads wondering what the term actually means. My hope is to define the term and take some of the mystery out of it in order to make it more user-friendly and practical for everyday life.
In my work as a therapist I use Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which treats mindfulness as the “core” of all skills training. It's usually the first topic I discuss with clients because I believe it sets the foundation for all the work we do in future sessions in reaching treatment goals. In DBT, mindfulness is defined as staying in the present moment with intention and awareness, while releasing any judgments or attachments that may arise. What this means on a practical level is bringing our awareness and focus to the present moment, removing any judgments, whether positive or negative, and allowing ourselves to fully experience the moment we have right now before it has passed.
Now you may be wondering, okay, how do I get started? So the great thing about mindfulness is that you can do almost any daily activity in a mindful way. Next time you take a walk, take a look around and describe what you see. Use your other senses too: observe or describe what you hear and notice what it feels like to have your feet hit the pavement as you walk. Next time you grab a coffee, take a few moments to savor the smell of your coffee. Next time you’re in a stressful work meeting, try elongating your breaths and notice how that feels in your body. Next time you’re with friends, cherish the moment and take note of the emotions you experience. These are just a few examples of how you can practice mindfulness on a regular basis, and as you may notice, your perception [and appreciation] of everyday experiences can change…for the better.
In our society, especially living in New York City, it’s almost a competition to see how many different things we can do at the same time and how quickly we can get things over with. What ultimately happens in this hustle and bustle is that we miss the present moment and orient our lives from a mindless perspective. By slowing things down in the current moment and incorporating some practices around mindfulness into our day, I believe we can find more peace and create a more meaningful and enriched life.
DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linehan.