Mindfulness: Your Mental Caution Sign

When it comes to sorting out how to create our goals and what’s in our way, a little mindfulness goes a long way.  I had a few lessons about that in my childhood, one of which I relay here.  In Zen, mindfulness is defined as attending to our experience of the moment — whatever the experience is, neither naming it good nor bad, just is.  In a more practical way of looking at it, mindfulness also means awareness.  But in order to have awareness, you have to have attention to the moment.  Which I clearly did not have in either moment in the above story.

Mindfulness is what provides learning.  It allows us to spread ourselves into the moment of now, so that we can attend to the next moment we experience.  What happened in the past doesn’t matter as we can do nothing about it; it has importance because it shapes us and shapes the moment in which we exist, but it’s a choice to let it shape our next one.

Meaning, stop, slow down and pay attention so that you can learn.  Watch.  Because it’s amazing what goes on right under our eyeballs and noses and we don’t even notice.

My stepmother makes coffee concentrate (I’m not sure how she does it, exactly), and the way she does it, she ends up with a two-quart pitcher filled. You then put about an inch (no more) in your mug, then dilute it with hot water.  Except, I did not know that bit or know it was coffee concentrate, despite having seen her make both the concentrate and what she drank in the morning many, many times.  (This was many years ago when I still lived at home).

She used to be a flight attendant, and so she was gone frequently.  Prior to one trip, she made me a cup of her coffee, and, because I liked the taste, she said I could have some while she was gone.  Delighted, I made some the following morning.

However, I couldn’t figure out why I was so zingy all day and feeling like I had Ricochet Rabbit pinging around in my head, nor why I felt like I had palsy.  I continued to ponder this as I lay in bed that night, tired, but body feeling like I’d stuck my finger in a nearby socket.  I finally fell asleep sometime in the wee hours of the morning.  I spent the following day with the same queries in my head.  And the next one, too.

My stepmother came home, and was quite upset to find that the pitcher was half empty.  “How much did you have?” she asked.

“Just one cup a day,” I said.

“How could that be?” she said.  “You drank almost a quart!”

After a little back and forth, I finally learned my error: I had filled the whole mug up with the concentrate, afterwards zapping it in the microwave to warm it up.

“Oh,” I said, the light bulb in my head growing slowly brighter.  “I thought it tasted awfully strong.”

“But you’ve seen me make it,” she said, rightfully bewildered.

And, yes — I had.  But all those times, all those many mornings, I had never paid attention.  (Yes…she still teases me about this. Why do you ask?)

So, perhaps most of all, mindfulness teaches you about the operation of your surroundings.  And it also helps you become solution-focused by facing forward to where you want to go from this moment on, rather than turned around, trying to move in the same direction, but with your back turned towards it because you’re facing the past.

It also helps you find calm and tranquility (thusly helping you use the right proportion of coffee so you’re not uncontrollably shaking your tailfeather all day), and so that you can find solutions and your next opportunities.  An excellent way to begin working on creating mindfulness is through breathwork.  Breathwork helps train your body to rope itself — and your mind — back to the here and now so that the past can become something like a supportive stiff wind at your back.  And we all know how much faster we can go with a snazzy tailwind.  Your mind follows your breath; rapid thoughts = rapid breaths; shallow breaths = shallow thought.

We live our lives on autopilot most of the time. On habit.  We slide through our days, our life, snapping from Outside Trigger to Internal Reaction faster than a snap.

The thing is, that “snap” actually goes through a well-worn sluice of a flow chart that’s inefficient and out dated.  Mindfulness, becoming aware, is how habits are broken and reactions are slowed down.

Mindfulness, and its continued practice, is what generates that sense of control we all want to have about our lives.  Empowerment.  It’s how we practice self-responsibility for Internal Reaction to Outside Trigger.  It’s how we discover the programming we’re using to bandy us about the day.   We may know something is broken, but without awareness…that deeply fundamental shift that rattles your bones, change won’t happen.

Notice the word:

Mind + ful(l) + ness

Now, notice this one:

Mind + less + ness

Which one feels better?  More enriching?  Softer and more powerful?  Which one feels empty and skewed?  Which one are you habitually practicing the most often?  Which would you prefer to practice most often?

So how could you start practicing the one you prefer more often?

So one small goal you could try is paying attention — with your entire being and all your senses — to what’s going on around you and in you — what you see, smell, hear, feel, taste.  What your thoughts are.  Let go — for just that moment — of wanting to control your mind and your thoughts and just be present with not just them, but all that you sense.  Notice something new about your environment, inner and outer.  As you drive home, make it a point to notice something new.

You may just notice something you need that’s been there — all the time.

Top image courtesy of

Questions? Comments? Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum.

— Heather


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