Now, I’m not so sure. Perhaps I did forget to look? I mean, I was hungry, thirsty, burning up, and if I’m being honest… I think I needed a bathroom break, too.
Insurance covered the damage because we were both at fault.
Flash forward…same year, different month: another Sunday afternoon with my partner back in the passenger seat. This time, it was a near-miss, but the same pattern.
My version of the story: “I glanced in the mirror, the coast was clear, and then the other car appeared out of nowhere!” That may be true, but our memories are fallible.
I’m not telling you about my driving record to figure out who was right or wrong. I am taking you to the grocery parking lot with me to demonstrate how easy it is to miss and dismiss small details when we fall into old habits like multitasking. Despite contrary belief, research now shows how we become more inefficient when we try to do more than one thing at a time.
Let the Mindfulness Begin…
For years, I’ve read about Buddhist traditions that gave us original mindfulness practices. “Active meditations” like yoga, tai chi, qiqong, pilates, and dance therapy that offer a combination of movement and breathwork have helped me practice slowing down my mind and increase the connection to my body.
I’ve enjoyed silent retreats and used a variety biofeedback devices to also support this practice. I’ve encouraged my clients to practice mindfulness just as various teachers and practitioners have encouraged me. All of these efforts share a common goal: to support the ability to stay present, experience the here and now, and learn to follow the wisdom of my body.
The term “mindfulness” is everywhere these days, but it can be hard to describe and, as proven by all the routes I took trying to learn it, it can be elusive.
Mindfulness, ironically, is very much the opposite of how it sounds. Rather than having a full mind, the goal is to develop a moment-by-moment awareness of what is happening now in order to practice letting go of any preoccupation with the past or future. You observe your experiences, both internally and externally, in order to focus attention on your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. For me, this practice of allowing such feeling and sensations to come and go without attachment is an ongoing journey.
Mindfulness also includes noticing your environment and how you’re being affected by the things going on around you. For example, I hear my dishwasher in the background as well as the pitter-patter of the keys on my computer as I type. I notice a slight numbing beginning to form around my sit bones and so I adjust my posture. I check in minute by minute to identify my current state and possible needs.
Had I been practicing such careful attention and awareness during my summer visit to the market, I would have likely avoided a dented bumper and writing a check to cover my insurance deductible.
Practice Makes Progress
I do my best to integrate mindfulness opportunities into daily routine and, nearly two decades after picking up my first Thich Nhat Hahn book, Being Peace, I finally feel what I read about so long ago: I can be here in the present moment. I can understand my feelings and sensations as signals that show me my needs and desires.
Because of my mindfulness practices, I can actually feel the fullness of gratitude, joy, and contentment when my needs are met. I can listen to the information delivered by my feelings and see my emotions as messengers for my needs. Sometimes I’m slow to recognize what I need. Sometimes I struggle to carve enough time to just be and I fill my schedule with too much doing. I’m still learning that I can’t do everything and discovering how to prioritize what is most essential.
Experiencing Everyday Mindfulness
Over a year and a half have passed since that accident and near repeat. I’m happy to report that I’m much more aware of my feelings and surroundings, moment-to-moment. Mindfulness helps me see when I am living in my head and not respecting my body or using all of my senses to experience life. Mindfulness enables me to see my blind spots, habits, and patterns of judging my feelings harshly, pushing and pulling others when I’m scared, and storing that fear in my body.
I’ve described how my own long journey to mindfulness involved many different practices. You can actually practice and cultivate mindful awareness through simple daily tasks. Notice the sensation and sound of the water while washing your hands. Pause to take in the aromas while you cook dinner. Take time to be in nature and notice what’s around you.
During mundane tasks like walking or driving you can avoid switching into your brain’s default problem-solving mode. Follow your breath and watch how these little moments become mini-meditations. When you consciously use your breath to practice mindfulness you’re inviting the intelligence of your body to relax your mind.
It’s important to note that mindfulness isn’t a cure-all, even once you make it part of your everyday rhythm. Being mindful has helped me a lot, but it was my relationships with loved ones, teachers, and healing professionals that helped me heal into a deeper connection with myself – they mirrored what I couldn’t see.
How to cultivate mindfulness in your own life
In my practice, I help clients create meaningful mindfulness practices through EcoArt Therapy, a combination of art and nature. This approach is an invitation to drop into the body and explore the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and even the taste of the air on your tongue. When you’re in nature, you loosen the mind’s grip on habitual states like distraction and urgency.
Consciously combining art and nature is Mindfulness in practice. My clients
tell me that it helps them to think less and feel more. In our deep healing work together, I encourage people to strive less and explore more. This is an opportunity to let go of analysis, rationalization, and thinking mode…to sense what is needed and follow intuition. This is the beauty of the mind-body connection and a necessary step in using all of our intelligence, not just cerebral and cognitive skills.
Learning to stay present in the body, following the breath, and tuning into sensation increases attention, focus, and emotional regulation. With such benefits you are less likely to end up in inconvenient accidents – or worse.
By doing one thing at a time you are available to connect more deeply to the task at hand, which in turn decreases the likelihood of errors and accidents. By paying attention to your body and breath, you can let your thoughts come and go. This shift in focus frees your mind to be used as needed when an actual problem arises rather than ruminating on past or future.
Noticing and accepting when your mind is preoccupied with thoughts is the first step in eventually creating more mindfulness. Through a practice of simply noticing your thoughts, you will also become aware when your mind is less occupied. When you’re aware of your thought patterns, you also gain the power to choose more consciously. The joy and gratitude that flow thanks to a mindfulness practice can become part of everyday routines.
If you struggle to stay present, find yourself on autopilot, or, worse, risk your safety with habitual multitasking, mindfulness could help.
Have you tried some of your own mindfulness practices? Found some to be more helpful than others? Leave me a comment and let me know where you are at in your mindfulness journey or what strategies you’ve used to increase your presence and body awareness. I would love to hear about your experience and practice.
If you find it difficult to shift your thought, patterns, and habits, I can help. I specialize in helping women, therapists, and other helping professionals increase their presence in order to heal past wounds, prevent burnout/ compassion fatigue, and experience greater satisfaction in their various roles and relationships. You deserve to live your life now without rumination of the past or future and to live comfortably in your own body. You may also be interested in this upcoming retreat to explore your innate wisdom and natural strengths as key resieliency skills for burnout prevention!