Monday, July 20, 2009


I took a picture of this lovely rose two summers ago while in the garden of Rochester Cathedral in England. I had walked back and forth along the garden path several times that morning but hadn't noticed the single blossom's deep apricot hue or it's perfect state of openness. As I settled on a wooden bench nearby I, an avid rose gardener, wondered at my lack of awareness, my "mindlessness".

It is so easy, with the busy pace we set, to run through life without noticing things that matter. Have you ever arrived home without recollecting the last few miles of your journey? Have you missed out on a Sunday dinner conversation while preoccupied with thoughts of work on Monday? Have you been oblivious to the sweet weight of a toddler on your lap as you've watched the hockey game?

Mindlessness is like living on automatic pilot. You may get things done but you miss out on important information - information that gives life richness or that keeps you safe or well. How often have you noticed the beginning of a headache and wondered, "Where did that come from? When did my neck muscles start feeling tense? When did that tension turn into pain? What happened to make me tense in the first place?" You may not find the answers to these questions if you haven't been present and aware in the moment. If you haven't been mindful.

Mindfulness means paying attention to things as they actually are in any given moment. (Not how they were in the past and not how they might be in the future.) And it means doing so non-judgmentally.

You can learn to be more mindful by practicing mindfulness meditation. You can ground yourself in the present by sitting quietly and noticing the sensations of your breath moving in and out. You might want to notice that the breath going into your nostrils is cold and that the breath coming out is warm. Or you might want to focus on the movement of your abdomen, just below your belly button, noticing its rise and fall with each breath. If your thoughts disrupt your focus on your breath, gently return your attention to your nostrils or your belly without judging your thoughts or yourself for having them.

Practice this meditation for a few minutes, morning and night, and gradually increase your time until you are meditating for 20 minutes a day. It will take lots of practice to develop this new skill, so don't give up for at least 8 weeks. And don't expect to experience instant peace. Our minds are notorious for increasing their chatter when we try to quiet them. Just notice when you've gone off on a thinking tangent and return, without judgment, to your breathing. Over time, you will develop a more mindful, centered, and de-stressed life.

If you're interested in learning more about mindfulness meditation, try Jon Kabat-Zin's books, Full Catastrophe Living or Wherever You Go, There You Are or listen to his meditation CD's, Guided Mindfulness Meditation Series 1, 2 & 3. You might also like to try the meditations of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist priest and founder of Plum Village in France. ( or

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