I can remember the exact moment that I decided to embrace mindfulness and it was before I even knew what the term meant.
I was going through a rough time in my life and was lamenting to a coworker who, being oh-so-caring, brushed away my struggles with a nonchalant, “You just have to take things day by day.”
Her comment irritated me. Of course I had to take things day by bloody day. What else could I do?
My mouth opened and I heard these words tumble out, “Day by day is too long. I’m going to take things moment by moment.”
Welcome to my world, mindfulness.
I have a feeling that we’re going to be lifelong friends.
Mindfulness is all the rage right now—to the point of being annoying. It’s like when Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga was published and then adapted for film, vampires and werewolves took over bookstores and the world in general. I smelled like garlic for years trying to stay away from all of the hoopla.
It also reminds me of every time Justin Bieber releases a new song. I’ll change the station on the radio (yes, the radio still exists) only to find that his song is on some sort of universal loop.
Baby, baby, baby—oh, go away!
(Fun fact: I enjoy The Biebs’ music a little too much, but that is beside the point.)
The point is, those were old references; and, a secondary point is that it’s all just a little too much. I loathe when things are forced on me—and mindfulness is everywhere: magazines in checkout lines, books, podcasts, courses, and conversations overheard at coffee shops.
Yet, deep down I am excited that mindfulness is influencing positive change in people’s lives. There is so much sadness and suffering in the world, and mindfulness can assist in alleviating some of the pain. I have always been a person who has found and created meaning in my life, but so often my joys were quashed because I’d be anxious about the future or depressed thanks to my past. Discovering that the present is the key to existing fully finally unlocked the door that held my peace and freedom on the other side.
Living in the moment sounds like an insanely easy thing to do. We experience 86,400 seconds each day—that’s a lot of moments—and, unless we are sleeping, we have no choice but to be present, right?
So many of us are distracted by our phones, technology, and our thoughts that we don’t completely embrace what is happening around us. We think that we are living in the moment when we are often just skimming the surface of our relationships, work, and lives in general.
There are many ways to be mindful and a quick Google search can lead you to cultivating various meditation practices, reciting mantras, focusing on your breath, attuning to your body, generating gratitude, journaling emotions, and partaking in yoga. I do all of these things in addition to three mindful practices that I conduct on a yearly, weekly, and daily basis.
Yearly: Choose a word and a symbol to focus on.
I always look forward to New Year’s Eve because—unless I have a major event or wedding to attend—I choose to spend the night reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to the upcoming one; it’s my favorite tradition. I order enough pizza to feed a family of six and uncork a new bottle of wine that I took my time selecting after meandering the aisles of the liquor store. So far, this doesn’t sound too mindful. How is looking at the past and the future living in the moment?
It comes down to intention.
With a slice of pepperoni, a glass of red, and my phone at the ready in case I need photos to jog my memory, I purposefully go through each month of the year. I do this in order to see what I experienced and what I have learned so as to either keep the momentum going or to attempt to put a stop to any poor habits and patterns.
It is the only time in the year that I am guaranteed to write. I let everything pour out of my pen in order to release all of my emotions and start anew. Finally, I choose a word and a symbol for the year ahead. They tend to manifest without much thought and they always correspond with each other.
I started this tradition by chance when, one past New Year’s Eve, I came across a ladybug in a hotel room. Where I live, the winters are often cruel. Temperatures can dip so low that exposed body parts can freeze in minutes; so, the fact that a little ladybug was traversing around a hotel room gave me a sense of hope.
In that moment, I decided that would be my word for the next 365 days and the ladybug would be my symbol. I would hold onto hope in the darkest of times and remember that life can change for the better in an instant.
Since then, I have chosen many word and symbol combinations that create a yearly mantra, such as:
>> Peace and the butterfly (“Through peace I will be transformed.”)
>> Believe and the compass (“I believe in where I am going.”)
>> Joy and the heart (“Following my heart will lead to joy.”)
>> Strength and the anchor (“I anchor myself in strength.”)
I put these words and symbols under a spotlight for the year. I explore, seek out, and surround myself with physical reminders throughout the year. As a result, each word and symbol becomes tattooed on my heart and ingrained in my spirit.
I conclude my New Year’s Eve by watching a movie that fits the theme of the year ahead and purchase a hand stamped key on Etsy. When this key arrives, I hang it with my collection of those from years gone by. My mindful words are literal keys to living my best life.
We don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve to do something like this. We can do this weekly, monthly, or whenever we want. What do we want to focus on in our lives? What do we want to attract more of? What would we like to release?
Say the word out loud; does it feel right? Trust me, there is power in the spoken word. You will know it is your word when you say it. Your body and mind will relax into it.
Now, what symbol corresponds with your word? What do you want to be your reminder? It can be specific or general: a flower, a type of fruit, a structure, an animal—anything that will trigger your mind to focus on your intention for the year. You’ll be amazed at how often you will see the symbol and how your mind will come to automatically associate it with your word.
Weekly: Go for a “walkumentary.”
At least once a week, I go on what I refer to as a “walkumentary.” I’m not a huge movie fan, but I do love watching documentaries—give me something real; I want to learn and understand!
I take my Pomeranian pup and we will head off to somewhere that we have never been in the city where I am conscious of everything around us. Unlike on our regular walks, I don’t listen to an audiobook or music. Instead, I focus on my five senses: What do I see? Feel? Hear? Smell? Is there something to taste? I put my phone on silent and only bring it along to capture a few moments that I want to remember. When I get home, I place the photos into my “Walkumentaries” photo folder and title it by date.
So often, I will have something weighing on my mind; and, by the time I get home, I’ll have an answer or at least a direction thanks to releasing my thoughts and being completely engaged in the walk. I have witnessed some amazing signs, met some spectacular people, and made memories all by consciously focusing on what surrounded me with each step. Like in meditation, when my thoughts drift, I kindly bring myself back to my breath and focus on one of my senses.
When your mind won’t stop its incessant talk, be intentional and go for a walk(umentary). You don’t have to take a different route each time; there is power in being mindful in routine. The important part is to be completely aware of what is going on around and within. Take the time to focus on each sense. Perhaps you might even want to focus on one sense per walk. If you’d like, take a photo or few of something that stands out.
Daily: Say “no” to notifications.
I miss the ’90s. In that decade we had the perfect amount of connection. Now, anyone can contact us at any time. I’m a highly sensitive person, so I am easily drained by too much stimulation and my phone is one of the main culprits. The incoming notifications can be too much at times.
Therefore, every day I will intentionally turn off all notifications for social media apps and texts for at least one hour (I’ll set a timer or alert for when I want to turn my notifications back on). If someone absolutely needs to get a hold of me, then they can call me. By saying “no” to the notifications, I’m offered a bit of a breather. Plus, when I turn them on again, I get to experience the excitement or disappointment of seeing what happened when I was being connected with my reality.
Surprises are great.
There are so many ways to cultivate a mindful life and any step that you take in being fully present is a win. I was worried that being mindful would be synonymous with being boring; but, it truly allows me to feel more fully, be more of myself, and do more of the things that matter.
Coming from a place of curiosity and playful exploration is a must for me and these three mindful traditions offer just that.
Mind feeling full? Time to get mindful.
Author: Courtney Dunn
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen