“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 is not so much a form of meditation with eyes closed and legs crossed on a zafu (pillow) once a day for a set period of time but is a way of being in which we experience clear awareness of our moment-to-moment experience. We are present in a way that is receptive, accepting, and non-judging. While this may seem simple, as anyone who has ever attempted to do this knows, simple isn’t necessarily easy.
The mind has a tendency to jump from one object of attention to another, often within the space of milliseconds. Living within a culture that subjects us to a continuous flow of sensory stimulation, the tendency to splinter our attention is strong. When this happens, we can feel that something is missing, and it is. What’s missing is a sense of wholeness.
Because we’re not fully present with our experience, we feel like we’re never quite complete. There is a strong tendency to look for something or someone that will provide what we need to feel whole. When we experience a sense of wholeness, there is a feeling of being at one with the world, at peace, lacking nothing, secure, connected to others, and ourselves. When we don’t experience this, we often conclude that it is because we don't have enough of something and seek to acquire it, or more of it, in the hopes of finding completeness. We may pursue money, attention, a relationship, material objects, sensory pleasure, or drugs as an antidote to the distressing feelings of fragmentation.
Mindfulness provides a direct path to the experience that we desire.
Those who believe that being mindful is blissful will be disappointed. Since being mindful is about being present with whatever that may be at any given moment, the experience comes in many forms. Being complete isn’t necessarily synonymous with feeling good; it’s simply being with whatever is present in our field of experience now.
So what does all this have to do with relationships? In a nutshell-everything. Most of us seek partners, temporary or permanent, out of a desire to find wholeness. Relationships provide are a powerful distraction from unpleasant feelings and fulfill our fundamental human need for connection.
Practicing mindfulness can enhance the depth of connection. It can neutralize negative reactive patterns that diminish trust and intimacy by enabling partners to attend consciously to each other’s concerns. Mindfulness in our romantic partnership can be a form of daily practice. Thriving couples are capable of being open to the full range of experience that each brings. This cycle of mutual reinforcement enhances the capacity for full engagement, which is the foundation of fulfillment.
Mindfulness can be practiced in a wide variety of settings.
Sitting quietly or taking walks together, speaking only that which is true, useful, and respectful, rather than indulging in judgments and unsolicited advice and criticism, designating time to get caught up on essential, rather than practical concerns, deliberately choosing to share a meal slowly rather than rushing through it without savoring, or simply sitting mindfully, watching the unfolding flow of one’s own experience.
It can be practiced in the context of everyday life as we are doing what needs to be done at work or home by slowing down and reminding ourselves to pay attention whenever we notice our mind spinning out. Simply interrupting mind-chatter with a reminder to slow down, check-in, and take a couple of conscious breaths can provide effective relief from disturbing or obsessive thoughts.
Mindfulness is not an escape from responsibilities that require actions, but rather it’s a process that enables us to see more clearly and act more effectively in relationships, work, and in our lives in general. 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 anything to our already full lives. It’s just a matter of practicing presence with that which that we are already doing. For that, we may need to slow down a bit. 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!