5 Ways Mindfulness Changed My Life
“We are solely immersed in the present, in this one everlasting moment that continuously unravels, both during the day and throughout the night.” ~Jack Kornfield
Around two years ago, I frequently encountered the term “mindfulness” in various sources, but I had absolutely no idea what it meant.
I frequently came across blog posts titled “The Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace,” “Enhancing Relationships through Mindfulness,” and “Exploring the Role of Mindfulness in the Bedroom.”
Afterwards, I came across a brief video that provided an explanation of mindfulness. There was a monk enjoying his coffee, while the narrator reflected on the enhanced flavor that comes from contemplating the journey of the coffee beans, the hard work of the farmers who cultivate them, and the intricate process involved in creating a humble cup of coffee.
All the information I came across on pop-culture blogs gave the impression that mindfulness was a miraculous cure-all, akin to snake oil, for all of life’s challenges. Despite my initial doubts and lack of understanding, I made the choice to approach mindfulness with an open mind and discover its true essence.
From the moment I began practicing, I found it to be a seamless and effortless sale because everything fell into place for me.
Having advocated for others to give it a shot, I’ve come to realize that individuals often have varying experiences. If you’re someone who is considering giving the practice a try or feeling discouraged, I hope this will provide you with the inspiration to persevere.
1. Time is the most precious resource we have, and it should not be squandered.
At the age of twenty-six, in June 2012, I received a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. The doctors informed me that my chances of surviving beyond a year were quite low. It’s hard to believe that five years have passed, but I’m grateful to be alive and witness the incredible growth of my son. My doctor was amazed to see that my heart had almost fully recovered and returned to its normal state.
Given this opportunity for a fresh start, I made a personal vow to seize each day to its maximum potential, aiming to minimize any time squandered, as the future remains uncertain.
I understand that my circumstances may be slightly more extraordinary than others, but I am confident that this is a cause that can unite us all. At some point in our lives, we have all experienced unforeseen misfortune, whether it be the loss of employment, a romantic connection, or the passing of a cherished individual. Given that tomorrow is uncertain, it is crucial to seize the opportunities presented to us today. I believed that I was doing just that until I came across mindfulness.
During my initial experience with a mindfulness course, I discovered a range of inquiries that had never crossed my mind before. It hadn’t occurred to me that these were important questions worth exploring.
- When was the most recent occasion that I experienced a moment of pure awareness where I consciously observed the force of gravity that holds me firmly on the surface of the earth?
- I breathe all day, every day, but how often do I actually pay attention to it?
- How often do I find myself driving from point A to point B without fully experiencing my surroundings due to being lost in my thoughts?
Over the past five years, I believed I was fully embracing each day, only to realize that there were countless experiences and opportunities that had eluded me. I drive to work, eat meals, have conversations, and participate in various situations without much thought. Practicing mindfulness allows me to stay completely focused and involved in every moment of my life, ensuring that I don’t overlook anything.
2. There is scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness.
Throughout my entire life, I have always been a highly skeptical individual. Perhaps it originates from the trust issues I developed during my childhood. The valuable lesson my father instilled in me was that when something seems too good to be true, it often turns out to be just that.
To convince me to give something new a try, I require compelling evidence and scientifically supported research that demonstrates its effectiveness. As previously mentioned, I highly value my time, and therefore, I am unwilling to invest my time in something that lacks substantiated evidence.
At approximately the same time when I first encountered mindfulness, I also discovered my profound interest in neuroscience. The prefrontal cortex is a fascinating region of the brain. Although it is the most recent addition, it also carries significant responsibilities, such as:
- Managing one’s emotions
- Managing impulsive behavior
- Regulation of the body
- Engaging in rational decision-making
- Empathy- is a concept that involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others.
- Interpersonal Relationships
- Self-awareness- is the ability to recognize and understand one’s own thoughts and feelings
One of the challenges we face as individuals is that our limbic system, which is responsible for our instinctive reactions, frequently takes precedence over our prefrontal cortex. Nevertheless, scientific research provides evidence indicating that engaging in mindfulness on a consistent basis contributes to the enhancement of that specific region of the brain.
Essentially, if I were to aim for stronger biceps, I am aware of the weightlifting exercises that would be beneficial. If I were looking to improve my endurance, I would likely incorporate cardiovascular exercises into my routine. If I desire to enhance the aforementioned abilities, it would be beneficial to engage in mindfulness exercises, as they have been found to strengthen the prefrontal cortex. I possess the ability to engage in debates at a high level, but I will always refrain from disputing scientific evidence.
3. I feel like my thoughts are adrift, without anything to ground them.
I am someone who constantly has thoughts running through my mind. I have been grappling with this issue since childhood. I believe it’s not a case of ADD, but rather a mind that is always engaged in planning, generating fresh ideas, and seeking solutions to challenges.
It is both a blessing and a curse. My exceptional cognitive abilities have consistently propelled me to succeed in various professional roles, as my thought processes are naturally inclined towards continuous improvement and innovation. The problem arises when there is a specific moment and context for this situation. It can be problematic when I find myself engaged in a conversation or working on a crucial project and my mind starts to wander, potentially causing difficulties.
I’ve also observed that my thoughts often wander to the most peculiar destinations. While sitting at my workplace desk, I find myself lost in thought for a brief moment. Surprisingly, my mind drifts towards a nostalgic scene from a 1990s television series, leaving me pondering the unexpected journey that led me there. It feels similar to driving your vehicle to purchase groceries and unexpectedly finding yourself at the park, wondering, “How did I manage to arrive at this location?”
I used to believe that I was one of the few individuals experiencing this, but it turns out it’s quite prevalent. On a daily basis, our minds generate tens of thousands of thoughts, and through practicing mindfulness, I have come to accept and embrace this reality. It can become problematic when we fail to recognize the direction our thoughts are leading us.
By employing various anchors, such as my breath or anchor words like “thinking,” I can promptly detect when my thoughts start to wander.
I frequently mention that rather than my thoughts straying five hundred miles away from their intended path, they now only deviate by approximately five miles.
Additionally, this has enabled me to discover amusement in my own thoughts, greatly aiding me in dealing with self-esteem concerns.
I possess a remarkable ability to transform a tiny anthill into a towering mountain in no time. As an illustration, let’s say I greeted the receptionist with a cheerful “Good morning!” upon my arrival at work, only to receive no response from her. In the past, my mind would often begin overthinking that particular situation right away, with thoughts such as “Perhaps she’s upset with me,” “I’m curious about what I may have done incorrectly,” and “I wonder if I’m at risk of losing my job because I don’t seem to be well-liked here.”
In the past, my thoughts would often veer towards the path of insanity, but now I have the ability to intercept them and find amusement in the direction they take.
4. Practicing mindfulness enables individuals to approach their emotions from a fresh perspective.
During a conversation with one of my mindfulness instructors, we touched upon the topic of how, as children, we are not taught about the intensity of life and emotions. This resonated with me on a personal level. Ever since I was a child, I have struggled with regulating my emotions. I don’t simply experience emotions; I truly experience them.
I perceive my emotions as existing along a continuum that ranges from -10 to +10, with the midpoint being at 0. Every time I experienced any emotion, whether positive or negative, it was consistently at an extreme level of intensity, either at a -10 or +10. Unfortunately, both of these extremes have the potential to cause me pain.
Discovering mindfulness has provided me with a valuable understanding of equanimity, a quality I recognized as essential for my personal growth. I have consistently faced challenges not only with feeling sad but also with experiencing depression. I wouldn’t become concerned; I would experience anxiety. I wouldn’t become angry; I would become extremely furious. Whenever I developed feelings for someone, I would quickly become deeply infatuated with them.
One problem I faced was that my high expectations would make me overly optimistic, scoring a +10. However, if things didn’t turn out as I hoped, I would quickly plummet to -10 due to being too high up.
The concept of suffering resulting from attachment is a central theme in Buddhist teachings, and it resonated with me. I would seek out emotions, whether they were positive or negative. In both instances, it felt as though I was grasping onto a scorching ember for an extended period of time.
Perhaps I allowed a previous incident to negatively impact the remainder of my day. Perhaps the thrilling plans I had for post-work activities were diverting my attention from completing my tasks. Practicing mindfulness allows me to observe my emotions without judgment and accept them as they are in the present moment.
Expressing positive emotions may seem simple in theory, but what about the challenging ones? Engaging in this practice also imparts the wisdom of impermanence, reminding me that no negative emotion is permanent in nature.
Currently, I have the capacity to calmly acknowledge and embrace my emotions. I observe my emotions like a leaf gracefully drifting downstream, passing by me. Recognizing that my negative emotions will eventually fade enables me to accept and embrace them instead of fighting against what I am feeling in the present moment.
5. It benefits my child.
As parents, we are constantly seeking activities to engage our children, and practicing mindfulness has proven to be beneficial for both my parenting journey and my son’s emotional well-being. After approximately six months of practice, I came to the realization that involving my son in my practice sessions would bring about numerous benefits.
During our trip, we had the opportunity to visit my closest companion in Southern California. We visited the boardwalk on the final day of our trip, and it was packed with all the things my son adored. He had the option to enjoy video games at the arcade, indulge in delicious boardwalk snacks, and relax on the beach. Regrettably, his day took a turn for the worse, beginning with a negative demeanor and escalating to a tearful breakdown.
I had exhausted all my efforts to uplift his spirits on the final day of our trip, but my attempts were in vain. I suspected that he might be feeling hungry, so we decided to get some food. I felt that he was being unappreciative, which can sometimes lead to negative responses. I had a feeling that we were engaging in too many grown-up activities, so we decided to give the arcade a shot, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as expected. What went awry?
He felt fatigued, yet he remained oblivious to his exhaustion.
At that time, my son was seven years old, and it’s important for me to keep in mind that he lacks the same knowledge and experience that I possess.
All the sensations he is encountering are novel to him, and not only does he struggle to express his emotions to me, but frequently he is unaware of his own feelings. After we settled down and had a moment, he shared that he was feeling incredibly exhausted and had been unable to sleep the previous night.
Upon our return from that journey, I commenced instructing him in the ways of mindfulness, and I have witnessed a remarkable transformation in him over the past nine months. He can recognize his emotions at an earlier stage, and he possesses his own methods to soothe himself.
He becomes aware of his concerns about the future, and he employs his breath to return to the present moment. He enjoys engaging in acts of loving kindness and sending kind thoughts to his younger brother, friends, family, and occasionally to unfamiliar individuals. He even gave a presentation on the concept of mindfulness for his second-grade project!
Before, I believed that I was content and happy with my life, but since I started practicing consistently, my life has improved significantly. Every day, I discover new things about myself and gain a deeper understanding of life.
If there ever comes a point where my progress in practice ceases, I would likely consider discontinuing. However, both my personal journey and the experiences of others have demonstrated that growth is a constant process that unfolds daily. Whether you find yourself in a period of stagnation in your practice or contemplating the idea of exploring mindfulness, it is important to continue progressing towards the state of enlightenment.
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