“Mindfulness is not something that is only done in the meditation hall, it is also done in the kitchen, in the garden when we’re on the telephone, when we are driving a car, when we are doing the dishes.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness has become a popular subject. Time magazine, an icon of mainstream American culture, featured a cover article on mindfulness. According to the article, all kinds of people, particularly celebrities, are engaging in this practice with surprising results. “Surprising” perhaps for those who haven’t been practicing mindfulness, but not for those who have been.
What may be surprising is that mindfulness is not so much a form of meditation that one engages in with eyes closed and legs crossed on a zafu (pillow) once or twice a day, but it is actually a way of being in which we experience clear awareness of our moment-to-moment experience with a non-judging attitude. While to the uninitiated, this may seem simple; but simple isn’t necessarily easy.
Learning How to Stay Present
Since the mind has a tendency to jump from one object of attention to another, we are subject to distractions. When this happens we can feel fragmented and incomplete. What’s missing is a sense of wholeness. Because we’re not fully present with our experience, there is a strong tendency to look for something, or someone that will provide us with what we need to feel whole. When we experience a sense of wholeness, there is a feeling of being at one with the world, being at peace, lacking nothing, secure, connected to others and ourselves. When we don’t experience this, we may pursue money, attention, material objects, sensory pleasure, drugs, or anything else that we have concluded will provide an antidote to the distressing feelings of disconnection.
The practice of mindfulness can provide a direct path to the experience that we desire. Those who believe that being mindful is blissful will inevitably be disappointed. Since being mindful is about being present with one’s experience, whatever that may be at any given moment, the range of possibilities of what can show up is infinite. Being complete isn’t necessarily synonymous with feeling good; it’s simply about showing up and being at one with whatever is present in our field of experience now.
Mindfulness Can Enhance Connection to Self and Other
So what does all this have to do with relationships? In a nutshell, everything. Many of us seek partners out of a desire to find this sense of wholeness. The strong emotional activation that relationships provide is a powerful distraction from unpleasant feelings. Practicing mindfulness in the context of a relationship can enhance the quality of connection. It neutralizes negative reactive patterns that diminish trust and intimacy, which enables partners to attend more consciously to each other’s needs. Mindfulness in our romantic partnership can be a central form of daily practice. When both partners are able to communicate their experience, this cycle of mutual reinforcement enhances the capacity for full engagement.
Mindfulness in relationships can be practiced in a wide variety of circumstances. Sitting quietly or taking walks together, practicing discernment in regard to speaking only that which is true, useful, and respectful to each other, rather than indulging in unsolicited advice and criticism. By designating uninterrupted time to get caught up on essential, rather than practical concerns, and by deliberately choosing to savor a meal slowly rather than rushing though it, or simply sitting mindfully, watching the unfolding flow of one’s own experience, we feel more whole and connected. Simply interrupting mind-chatter with a reminder to check in, and take a couple of conscious breaths can provide effective relief from disturbing thoughts.
Taking the Challenge to Commit to Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is not an escape from responsibilities that require action, but rather it’s a process that enables us to see more clearly and act more effectively. And for those of you who would like to practice mindfulness but feel that you don’t have enough time available to do it, consider this: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spends four hours a day sitting in meditation. And he doesn’t exactly have an empty schedule. When something is important enough, to us, we manage to find time for it. Living mindfully doesn’t require us to sit in meditation or add any thing to our already full lives. It’s just a matter of practicing presence with that which that we are already doing. And paradoxically, doing so doesn’t mean getting less done, but just the opposite. Try it and see for yourself. It may be easier than you think!
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio.
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