Mindfulness in a World Bent on Emptying Your Mind

This last year of post-grad life has been challenging for me. Going from the steady, predictable, structured bubble of college (and really, k-12 before that) to the unpredictable, often chaotic world of #WorkingGirlLife has been one heck of a transition.

To put it simply, I’ve been stressed. Not just your general working-a-40-hour-a-week-job-I-need-coffee-to-get-through-the-day kind of stressful.

No, no.

I’m talking working-40-hours-a-week-at-night-with-little-social-interaction-pin-my-eyelids-to-my-forehead-and-start-an-espresso-IV-I’m-so-tired-OMG-I’m-freaking-the-freak-out-I-need-a-break kind of stressful.

I have taken mini vacations to get away. I’ve indulged in the sweetest, smoothest squares of dark chocolate. I’ve found a new hobby in cooking and baking. I’ve taken up serious exercise. I’ve tried just about anything I could think of to help. But it wasn’t until I was coming apart at the seams that I realized “this stuff alone just isn’t working”.

Defining Mindfulness

I have taken more steps to abate the stress lately and one of the practices that has made a noticeable difference is daily mindfulness.

Not an on trend, hippie-dippie brand of mindfulness practiced by cute yoginis who sip their lattes by day and perfect their Vinyasas by night.

Is this the image you get when you think of mindfulness? If this isn’t what mindfulness is, you may be thinking, then what is it?

I’m glad you asked. I like how one dictionary defines it.

Mindfulness (noun): the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis

I agree with this definition on all parts except one: how it defines mindfulness as a “nonjudgmental state”. We should definitely strive to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences and how they affect us in each moment. But we need a discerning filter as we do.

One definition of the suffix -ful is this:

to be characterized by; (as in peaceful, i.e.  full of peace)

So our mindfulness should be characterized by our minds. Our minds are constantly thinking, making decisions about the environment around us. They keep us safe in dangerous settings. They help us enjoy fun ones. They are always judging. That is their job. So our mindfulness should mimic this pattern. We should strive to always be aware of our thoughts, always judging them.

How to Be Mindful in a World Bent on Emptying Your Mind

So many popular opinions encourage emptying our minds in the name of mindfulness. Not only is this not beneficial, but for most people it’s not feasible and  unwise. Many of us work in stressful environments that can breed ideals about ourselves that are damaging if left unchecked. So obviously, holding them all in until the end of the day when you can brain dump is unwise. In some work environments emptying your mind several times throughout the day is unrealistic. And for some of us, to steal away to the nearest empty office every few hours to get in some “mindfulness time” is irresponsible.

Here are a few things you can do to practice daily mindfulness and to help you filter the thoughts going in and coming out of your mind.

+Be Authentic. Bad roots bear bitter fruits, which is why the first step in mindfulness is to come clean about what you feel. Be completely honest with yourself about your feelings. Understanding the why behind the thought is just as important as the thought itself. Once you recognize an emotion you’ve been experiencing write it down then ask, “why?”. Continue asking yourself why you feel what you feel and writing the answers down until you can’t dig any deeper. Usually, you’ll find that there is a far more sinister belief that founded many of the other negative thoughts you have, and you probably hadn’t even realized they were related.

+ Be Grateful. Once you uproot the bitter roots replace them with truths to promote growth. Find what you have to be thankful for and write it down. When you deliberately find reasons to be grateful, even in the face of every reason not to be, then gratefulness becomes a way of life. That’s not to say that you should face trials with a delirious brand of glee but instead realize that trials produce a stronger, wiser, more fire-tested you. So be thankful. Gratefulness begets joy.

+ Be Intentional. Write down quotes, truths, and thoughts that prompt mindfulness and post them in places you know you’ll be throughout your day; your car, your desk at work, your room, etcetera. Especially place them where you know you are prone to negative thoughts. Curate a mindfulness playlist to listen to when you want to refocus your thoughts. Find your person. Someone who gets how your brain works and your ways of seeing things, who understands what you’re dealing with and gives great advice, and who is amazing at listening. Conversely, remove toxic relationships from your life. All these things are things to do to be more intentional about maintaining daily mindfulness.

+Be Gracious. To err is human. If you’re a turbulent personality type you probably think you err a lot. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but give yourself a little grace. When you make a mistake don’t shrink in shame but take a bird’s eye view of the situation. Take responsibility for what you did wrong, see what you can learn from your mistake, and improve your process.

+Be Restful. Take little breaks throughout your day, bigger ones throughout your week and month, and treatyoself throughout the year. Plan a twice yearly trip by yourself or with friends to get away from your normal routine and give yourself time to recharge. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, just do what you love to do!

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