Here are five ways that mindful awareness can benefit your personal life as well as the lives of those around you.
1. Mindfulness helps to slow things down. When mindfulness is introduced into our lives, behaviors are no longer automatic, knee-jerk reactions. The mindfulness muscle helps us to pause.
Rather than eating vast amounts of food without even realizing it, or making food choices at the supermarket based on conditioned factors, the mindful pause puts space between the impulse and the action. In the space of the few seconds we take a few breaths, tune in to our bodies, and become aware, we find that we make different choices. Having this space between the impulse and the action is the bedrock of habit change, as well as the beginning of more intentional living.
Sometimes the difference between whether we eat the entire quart of ice cream, or go out for a walk, is as little as 10 deep breaths. Sometimes all it takes is to slow things down so we can hear our own inner wisdom, and the wisdom of our bodies. Now we are not talking about living life in slow motion, but bringing things back to a normal pace.
Our modern world comes at us at lightening speed. Thoughts turn into texts which fire out to other people with barely a moment of contemplation. Wishes can turn into material possessions with a quick purchase online, or a swipe of a credit card.
For a large part of our history, we had natural, built-in pauses. We had to grow, prepare, hunt, or cook our food. We had to work countless hours to earn money to buy luxuries (pre-credit card days). We had to wait for the mail to arrive, or travel to see someone face to face.
Today, everything happens in an instant, including our choices about food and lifestyle. Mindfulness introduces a natural pause that temporarily takes us off of the insane treadmill, and gets us in touch with what is in our best interests.
2. Mindful awareness helps us to see things more clearly. We begin each class with 3 minutes of mindfulness. This has been the “workout” that has strengthened the mindfulness muscle, like lifting barbells or doing push-ups. When this muscle gets stronger, you will notice that you can see everything more clearly—your thoughts, emotions, motivations, and behaviors. You may even find that you experience your body differently, getting a clearer picture of when you are full, what kinds of food your body needs, and how certain foods make you feel.
Mindfulness is really about getting to know your own mind. Imagine your mind is like one of those snow globes. The busyness of everyday life is like having the globe constantly shaken. The liquid never has a chance to be undisturbed, and thus is continually clouded with “snow.” When you begin the practice of mindfulness, you stop the constant shaking and jostling. The debris settles, and you experience an increase in clarity.
Of course, this doesn’t happen immediately. Quite often, people first begin to notice how cluttered and chaotic their mind is. They are noticing the white flecks of snow swirling around–something they simply thought was normal. However, with time and practice, that will begin to settle, and the new normal will be an increased sense of clarity.
3. Mindfulness helps us to live with greater intention. Once we begin to slow down and take notice, we can direct our lives according to our intentions.
This is simply not possible when we are being shaken, jostled, and pulled in all directions. Our focus improves. New habits develop that are in line with our values. It no longer becomes a struggle to be more active, or to eat healthy foods because it is our clear, undivided intention to do so.
Living with intention is only possible when you are able to unite body-mind-spirit. When the body is doing one thing (surfing the web while eating chips and drinking soda), the mind is distracted and cluttered, and the spirit is a tiny voice drowned out by the chatter, our intentions are merely “nice ideas” that never come to fruition.
With mindfulness, we unite all parts of ourselves and really begin to live the life we have always wanted to live. The average person whittles away several hours on the internet doing nothing in particular. Imagine what could be accomplished if that time was aligned with our intentions? Mindfulness inspires us to ask such questions.
4. Mindfulness helps us to see connections. Everything really is connected. With globalization, now more than ever. Our choices affect every one and every thing around us. Our lifestyle is not just ours, it is the planet’s. A small percentage of the global population is responsible for most of the resources. Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this as Mindful Consumption and details it in his book Savor.
Americans decide they like beef and miles of rainforest are destroyed for cattle grazing. Cheap clothing means child labor in Indonesia. Plastic and disposable everything means the oceans are clogged with waste. Over-reliance on antibiotics and pharmaceuticals means that our waterways are awash in drugs excreted and flushed down the toilets. I recently learned that much of the wild-caught shrimp comes from enslaved humans on fishing boats in Asia. And so on. Our most personal choices affect everyone around us.
The typical reaction to such information is to have “suffering overload,” tune out, and continue on with life as usual. What can we really do but throw up our hands in powerlessness and despair? Mindfulness is the middle ground–the realistic answer. Mindfulness is being aware of the effect of the connection between our behavior and the planet, and not tuning out in despair.
Mindfulness helps us to do what we can do in our own small lives, in our own unique ways. Can we do everything? No. Can we do something? Yes. And each one of us can decide, using mindful awareness, what that something is.
I remember listening to an introduction for a very accomplished author. He was in his seventies, and had a staggeringly impressive list of accolades. When the announcer was finished with the long list of awards and publications, the author simply waved his hand and said “I did a couple things a year. I’m an old man. It adds up.”
That is how it is when we expand our awareness of the connections between our actions and the planet. We can’t do everything. But we choose what we can realistically do, do a few things (think small and attainable), and over time it will add up to something significant.
5. Mindfulness will increase our sense of compassion. A natural result of mindfulness is increased compassion. Most people take pleasure in helping others. When mindful awareness is increased, one of the first things to go is self-judgement. Recall, that our definition of mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness. Shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and self-hate are frequent issues for people struggling with weight. However, with mindful awareness, we learn how to be compassionate toward ourselves. Naturally, that will expand outward to others.