February 3, 2016

Becoming Mindful: A handbook of sorts.


With all of the apps, blogs and forums dedicated to mindfulness and well-being, the transition into mindfulness as a lifestyle can become quite an overwhelming experience.

Sometimes it feels as if the more mindfulness we can pack into our day—the more yoga, the more recipes, the more Feng Shui—the more mindful we should be. Right?

I was one of those, who would spend countless times mulling over these various apps and blogs researching the shakes, the oils, the stretches, the plants all in an effort to be this projection of the modern-mindful-chic.

What I found was that the more I tried to maintain this lifestyle, the more stressed (and by default of my personality, less mindful) I became.

I am by no means discounting any of these sites or apps, after all I am writing on one of them. I am here to provide some insight to those who are looking into assimilating mindfulness into their lifestyle; what it means to embrace the contemplative and what it can really do, verses the myriad of projections as to what your life could/should look like (from the perfect angle and with the right filter).

1) Know Why You are Doing This:

I cannot stress this enough—being precise in your understanding of “why” is the foundation of mindfulness and more than that, it will help define your starting point so you don’t become stretched too thin and ultimately burn-out. You need to truly open the door of communication with yourself; how does this chapter read to you, what is your story?

2) Start with One Focus:

My greatest struggle when I began this journey was focusing on just one aspect. I tried to change my diet, my exercise, my skin routine, my household cleaning routine, et cetera, et cetera—simultaneously.

Taking steps to improve your well being can be very exciting and if you’re like me, that high energy can metastasize into an over-exhausting random grasp at changing every single aspect of your life. This approach can quickly lead to severe burnout and regression into old, un-serving habits.

My advice would be to start with the most manageable change. For some, that might be finding five to ten minutes a day for meditation. For others it could be working to drink more water, consume less sugar, or take a yoga class once a week. Once you have mastered your first step and feel it settling well within your routine, add another. Sooner than you think you will find you have several new habits which you can embrace the benefits of, instead of feeling suffocated by them.

I have also found this method to be helpful because honing your focus allows you to dive deeper into each change; really taking hold of how and why certain dietary changes are beneficial or understanding what aspects of the mind and character are ignited with meditation.

Knowing and knowing well allows us to share our experiences with confidence and empathy instead of regurgitating what we have consumed through a few hours of online research.

3) Reality vs. “Reality”:

Okay, I get it; Pinterest makes it seem so perfect and enjoyable.

The truth is, it’s not.

The journey to contemplative living can be exhilarating and beautiful but it can also be incredibly difficult and, sometimes, even dull in comparison to what you expected. Your body-mind will fight to maintain its cocoon of Netflix and chilling with Ben & Jerry and it will create unattainable scenarios of perfection in regards to certain practices that no one can live up to.

Never, ever let yourself get discouraged.

This is why having a clear understanding of why you’re making this decision is so vital; just like in meditation when you come back to the breath, here you come back to your original aspirations. If it helps, write them down and post them somewhere where you can be reminded of why your wellness is so important.

Also, do not be misled by much of the information you see online. Do not religiously follow one source and always seek a second or third or fourth opinion! True contemplative practices are founded upon traditions that have withstood thousands of years; the en vogue fads and pyramid schemes of the internet will pass, I promise.

I have found that the most natural remedies (DIY opportunity, hey!) are often the most effective, and the safest! Remember, if you’re maintaining your focus of one aspect at a time, you should be comfortable with research. If you have found a popular modern technique that interests you, do your homework first!

4) Be Patient:

Contemplative living is not by any means a quick fix, but an overall decision to improve the well being of your body-mind. Each journey is different, and comparison is the enemy of content; focus on your aspirations and trust your judgment.

In the contemplative world there is a phrase that encompasses the experience of a pause, called “the gap”. Learning to honor the gap, and embrace your transitional period is probably the most crucial aspect of the entire process. Many of us have a hard time with the gap (think of all the times you used to speak during an awkward silence); I understand that focusing on one thing at a time and taking it step by step can seem like you are painstakingly stuck in the same place which you began. I am here to say that there is no liposuction available for the spirit, no quick fix and you must understand that you will not become a new person overnight.

The process is slow, but (insert cheesy quote) “Rome was not built in a day”.

Seriously though, take a step back and realize that you are changing your life and undoing years of conditioning. The idea that your brain is plastic (or can undergo neurological changes at any age) is a testament to our predisposition for developing; we are born to challenge ourselves.

Take this opportunity and pull it out of all the images and filters you see on the internet and look at it for what it is—a desire to create a light within yourself and for others. Sincerely honor that acknowledgement and potential within yourself.

Now start with step one.


Author: Lauren Hallal

Editor: Erin Lawson

Images:  Flickr/Jenavieve   //   Flickr/Hartwig HKD


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