A guest blog by Caryn O’Hara
Isn’t that interesting?
It’s a question we ask ourselves often when we traverse the mindful path. The mindful path is a phrase we use to describe our chosen lifestyle of regularly opting to observe, listen, and surrender as daily practices that inform us about ourselves, the world, and people within it.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment on purpose. The overarching goal is to do this without judgement. We set our intention on becoming a witness, which is not an overnight shift given the human brain is naturally wired to judge and discern. To add to the challenge, modern western culture is “more” obsessed, which essentially makes an awareness-based lifestyle the wise person’s way of experiencing a life of rebellion.
Simply stated: it’s time to stop glorifying more is more. The truth is less is more.
Understanding the neurobiology
based on base
According to a poignant Psychology Today article from 2009, “humans have two distinct ways of interacting with the world”. The first is the default network, which is filtered by a narrative we have threaded through our minds based on our past experiences and samskara, or epigenetics. Samskara/epigenetics explains how trauma gets passed down through generations, how it affects DNA and changes its expression from parent to child. Of course we aren’t only affected by our parents’ and their parents’ trauma; we might say we are positively injected with components from uplifting and supportive experiences had by our ancestors.
Conversely, the direct experience path is the other network from which we interact in the world and it is essentially the practice that takes place along the mindful path. In this type of interaction, senses like sight, smell, touch are used to bring us into the present moment to fully experience the essence of what is happening right now, less a connection to any previously experienced moment in time.
Isn’t that interesting?
Minding the lifestyle
Living with present moment awareness might not be the mainstream way of living. Moreover, when we choose to live more mindfully it isn’t for the sake of being socially disruptive; it just happens to shake out that way.
Here are five reasons to live with awareness:
- honor our fundamental needs as humans,
- recognize where we are on the path of evolution as a species,
- identify the neuroses we all carry from time to time,
- acknowledge how we set ourselves up for failure and not feeling like we are enough when we expect ourselves to operate at maximum productivity at all times,
- and come to terms with the inner and outer destruction we cause when we force ourselves to live the go, go, go lifestyle.
Perpetually living in “more is better” mode isn’t natural. It certainly isn’t sustainable from a neurobiological perspective since our mind and body need to spend time in rest and repair mode to maintain long-term health. This isn’t to say we can’t indulge or enjoy sensory pleasures (these are non-negotiables for me!); it’s more about noticing our choices, how they affect us, and whether or not making certain choices truly benefits the lifestyle we crave.
This is the conundrum we all face. The million dollar question… How do we live in this fast-paced world and remain authentically connected to an inner sense of health, joy, contentment, and peace?
Reaping the benefits
Quite honestly the list is endless, but if we can wrap your head around making the commitment we will be greatly rewarded no doubt. According to research, “people high on a mindfulness scale were more aware of their unconscious processes”. This means we’re more likely to catch ourselves before we say or do something that would typically cause more strife in our lives – even when we’re triggered during a disagreement. The key here is to practice mindfulness regularly. It’s not a one and done type of cause and effect.
World-renowned psychiatric research scientist, John Teasdale, reminds us:
“Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort… it’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.”
Dipping Our Toes Into Mindful Waters
If you’re wondering how to become more mindful, how to make conscious decisions to move from a life that is constantly spent intellectualizing to make decisions to a more heart-centered approach to life, there is a much less stressful, much more freeing way to live.
Here are a handful of quick pointers on how to begin living with greater health and contentment, more joy and peace:
- Start with one thing. One 10-minute period for yourself to breathe mindfully before others wake up? Write down one thing for which you are grateful before you lay your head down each night.
- Breathe. Mindfully take in a slow, deep inhale for a count of 5. If you are stressed or wound up, extend your exhales longer than the inhale count and slowly release. Repeat at least 3-10 times.
- Try catching yourself in a space of shame. What are you ashamed of? Why? Does anyone else care that you did/said what you did/said. If not, the practice is to notice the shame and remember you don’t have to live with it anymore. If you have hurt someone in the process of doing/saying what you did/said, ask yourself if you can make it right. If yes, do it. If no, apologize authentically and do your absolute best not to do/say it again.
- Get quality sleep. Our long term health will be affected – for better or worse – as we connect to circadian rhythm, the natural rhythm of waking and retiring with the sun as much as possible.
- *Try out a workshop (such as Ayurveda’s Winter Survival Kit) with someone with extensive training and many hours of personal experience who can lead you to a place of calm so you gain the benefits of the experience. A bonus here is the ability to then repeat these experiences with the same trained professional or on your own using the techniques you learned.
*Ayurveda’s Winter Survival Kit is not a workshop that only supports your health if it’s snowy and below freezing. The workshop is designed to support your nervous system, to de-escalate its excitement, reducing stress, and increasing the body’s natural immunity to unwellness. Each Tuesday for four weeks, you will be guided through an hour that will rejuvenate and bring mindful moments into your wellspring of intelligent ways to heal and feel inherently good.