A Very Basic Guide to This Mindfulness Trend You Keep Hearing About
If your heart is beating and you use the Internet (it is, and you do!), you’ve probably heard about “mindfulness,” the latest self-improvement trend in a nation that truly loves self-improvement trends.
Since there’s a good chance you aren’t mindful enough to tune in and figure out what’s going on with this mindfulness stuff, below you’ll find a guide that even the least mindful mobile-device addict can digest.
So mindfulness is the new thing cool teens are talking about?
Not exactly. The Buddha practiced this ancient meditative technique more than 25 centuries ago, and now Sergey Brin is all about it.
OK, fine… but WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
It’s the very-difficult-but-straightforward practice of paying attention to the present moment. This can occur during formal meditation, or in more everyday contexts, like paying attention to the tastes and smells of the burger you’re eating for lunch.
Basically, you don’t want to be consumed or distracted by thoughts about that bad Tinder date last night, what to order from Seamless tonight, and what will happen on Game of Thrones. Thoughts about Game of Thrones are fine... when you're watching Game of Thrones.
All I have to do is pay attention to what I’m doing?
Kind of, but it’s more about how you pay attention.
By definition, mindfulness is about just being. But because we’re all laypeople who get Snapchats and have annoying coworkers and are constantly forced to put up with shit, we have to learn how to do things mindfully.
The way this looks practically? Often by returning to the breath, we can focus our attention back on what it might look like to "just be" in a given moment, especially a difficult one.
Does that mean I could be a mindful Snapchat user?
Sure. Say your ex sends you a Snapchat video of him/herself with someone who looks like a new BF/GF. You start freaking out and want to send back a mean text message. But instead you decide to practice mindfulness.
If you’ve ever wanted to be like Rupert Murdoch, then you should meditate.
So you say to yourself, “Fuck, I’m jealous and want to send him/her a text that says ‘Screw you.’” But you don’t. You acknowledge where you’re at, and let the feeling be.
Which cool celebrities will I be emulating?
Gisele Bündchen is super hot and super mindful. Oprah is insanely successful and a regular meditator (she worked with Deepak Chopra on a 21-day meditation challenge). Angelina Jolie is not only obsessed with her kids, but thinks of spending time with them as “meditation moments.”
Which not-so-cool celebrities will I be emulating?
If you’ve ever wanted to be like Rupert Murdoch, then you should meditate -- because so does he. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER has even hopped on the meditation train.
Obviously depends on your definition of cool vs. not cool here.
Why is my boss suddenly into mindfulness?
Because mindfulness-for-productivity is having a moment, especially in corporate environments, where companies are increasingly interested in extracting as much value as possible from their employees.
Google, for instance, offers a mindfulness-based meditation class for its employees, called Search Inside Yourself -- to make them more productive, but also happier.
Other companies getting in on the action include HBO, Bank of America, Aetna, Deutsche Bank and General Mills, along with what's probably an infinite list of startups in Silicon Valley and beyond. The popular new book Mindful Work, by David Gelles, goes into far more depth than I’d ever want to do about corporate mindfulness in America.
Is being mindful just a productivity hack?
You’ll probably be more focused, less emotionally reactive, and less stressed, among other benefits.
But I’m pretty adamant that you shouldn’t just think of mindfulness as a productivity tool. Mindfulness is ultimately about cutting through the shit that your mind usually puts in your way, so you can feel more clear and calm.
Plus, mindfulness is good for a ton of other stuff besides productivity, such as making you happier and better prepared to cultivate healthier relationships. Mindfulness may even lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.
What other research is there on mindfulness?
Plenty! Scientists are always studying mindfulness, as you can tell from the litany of benefits above. But the benefits just keep on coming! While there's been plenty of anecdotal evidence of mindfulness' stress-busting power, research from January 2017 found that yep, this holds up. People who practice mindfulness are far better able to handle high-pressure situations than their non-mindful counterparts. Chalk up another win for paying attention!
Got any good, pithy quotes that I can repeat to my friends?
Here are some of my favorite quotes about mindfulness. Hopefully they’ll help you get started so that you, too, can be a mega-rich CEO or a sexy Victoria's Secret angel.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” -Thích Nhât Hanh
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” -Jon Kabat Zinn
“Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life.” -Marcus Aurelius (from Meditations)
And that's virtually everything you need to know to pretend you're an expert the next time mindfulness is the topic of conversation at the wild and crazy party you're attending.
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Charlotte Lieberman is a freelance writer and editor. She thinks and writes a lot about meditation, well-being, being a woman, relationships, and sex (duh). Follow her: @clieberwoman.