When I started my sabbatical in 2019, I set intentions for the time away from traditional work. One of the main objectives was to practice being present and incorporate mindfulness into my daily life.
What do I mean by mindfulness?
Dictionary.com defines mindfulness as:
- the state or quality of being mindful or aware of something.
- a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them.
I was first exposed to mindfulness when I was on a January-term study abroad session during my sophomore year of college. The course was Buddhism and Christianity and it took place in Thailand. During my independent study, I chose to spend time at a Buddhist monastery in a meditation program. I thought I would be observation of monks and other program participants meditating. In actuality, it was a course in meditation practice for ME. As a nineteen year old, I did not fully appreciate the gift I was given during those few days of study. However, the experience left an imprint on me.
Over the last decade or more, I have focused on incorporating “pause”, meditation, being in the moment, and enjoying the present into my daily routine. This focus has been through a variety of activities, practices and multiple voices of encouragement and instruction.
I am far from a master of mindfulness. It has taken years of practice to be able to sit quietly in meditation for 10 minutes without crawling out of my skin. During my sabbatical, I read books about mindfulness, meditation and contemplative prayer, searching for experiences and disciplines that resonated with me. All the while, I knew a force was drawing me to this time of pause and investigation.
Mindfulness is available to everyone.
Some things are easier to be present for/with than others. But whether you are practicing mindfulness of something pleasant or something difficult, there are benefits to the practice.
A quick internet search will pull up several sources articulating the benefits of mindfulness. Here are a few interesting articles:
- Harvard Gazette: When science meets mindfulness
- Positive Psychology: 23 Amazing Health Benefits of Mindfulness for Body and Brain
The Gifts I Receive
In thinking about my journey with mindful living, especially in the last year, I came up with a list of the top five gifts I have received from practicing mindfulness.
- Reduced stress/anxiety – it seems counterintuitive that adding another thing to do during the day would actually reduce stress. But, when I take time to meditate, or to eat my meal mindfully, or to focus on folding the laundry instead of talking on the phone or watching Netflix at the same time, my stress level goes down.
- Increased quality of sleep – I have a lifelong history of insomnia and broken sleep patterns. When I’m in the routine of practicing mindful living, my sleep issues go away! I have to be intentional about how I set up myself for sleep success, like avoiding screen time before bed and taking time to unwind by reading. However, those actions are mindful and lead to better sleep.
- Improved health issues – Science shows that people who regularly engage in mindfulness have less health issues. I have chronic headaches; when I’m intentional about living mindfully, I experience less frequent headaches.
- Building resilience – I find that being mindful decreases my negative emotional reactions. I can handle challenging situations in a calmer manner and I have a brighter outlook. When I’m mindful, I can move forward to problem-solve instead of shutting down when I’m faced with a roadblock in life.
- Increased focus – I wrote a blog on multi-tasking a while back and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. When I show up the best in life, I have focus and attention on what is in front of me, versus trying to tackle multiple things at once. I am able to focus more and think clearly.
There is so much room for improvement in my quest for mindful living. The practice ebbs and flows. But each time I return, so do the gifts.
What is your all time favorite book or podcast on mindfulness? I need to start. I feel like everywhere I look lately I hear about mindful living and I am convinced I could benefit from it. Just not sure where to start. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Hi, Sarah! Thanks for asking! The two most powerful books I’ve read on Mindful living are: “You are Here” by Thich Nhat Hahn and “Mindful Silence” by Phileena Heuertz. One is from a Buddhist perspective, and one from a Christian perspective. A few years ago I subscribed to the Headspace app. There’s a free trial, but I opt in to the annual subscription because I loved the simplicity of their mindful meditations. There are several other apps that are free for practicing mindful meditations; however, the approach of the Headspace teaching really resonated with me. I’m just getting into Podcasts, so I don’t have any recommendations on those. If I find one I like, I’ll let you know! There are so many small actions we can take each day to bring mindfulness into our lives. I hope you find some that you can hold on to!