Written by Alisa Burpee, PhD
In a previous post, we provided an overview of how to practice mindfulness, and you practiced observing your breath. So, why practice mindfulness? Perhaps you’ve thought, “I don’t have time to pay attention to my breath, I have too much to do!” And it’s true our lives are full of many demands. But recall the last time you felt so overwhelmed you became gridlocked and had difficulty completing tasks. Or the last time you just wanted to crawl into a sensory deprivation tank. It turns out that, while we are good at doing, we are not ‘human doings’ and we benefit from a different gear called being. Mindfulness offers us the chance to find that alternate gear in the daily pace of our lives which, when practiced, is a sustainable source of replenishment. This is vital if we want to function effectively and optimally. Research shows that mindfulness increases our ability to regulate our emotions (one way is that it decreases emotional reactivity and increases response flexibility), increases satisfaction in our relationships (i.e., enhances our ability to communicate with others as well as our compassion for others), and improves cognitive functioning (by increasing our attentional capacity and processing speed). Studies show these changes reflected in the neurology of the brain and that generally mindfulness has the capacity to re-wire our brains (Davis & Hayes, 2011).
So if you’re not sold yet, why else? Well…the answer might be mulch! Let me explain.
Recently my husband and I had several cubic yards of mulch delivered to our house and our intention was to distribute it throughout the entire perimeter of our yard. This could’ve gone a couple of different ways. We could have dreaded the task and dragged ourselves through it by judging the experience (“This is so lame, I hate mulch!”), resenting our previous decisions regarding home improvement. However, with mindfulness, the task was transformed into something a bit more interesting and pleasant. I paid attention to the movements of my body. I found myself appreciating what my body could accomplish. I became more invested in and attached to my home and yard, discovering new plants I had not previously known existed. I participated in moments of stillness observing the beating of our resident hummingbird’s wings and my puppy playing joyfully in the yard beside me. By allowing us to be present, mindfulness enables us to notice things we had not previously noticed. We become less caught up in the storylines in our heads and participate more fully in what is right before us. In this way, we can see things more clearly, almost as if peering into a pristine alpine lake. We can get to the bottom of things easier which enables us to respond to life more effectively. As a result, we extract more meaning from life or “Our moment’s worth” (Segal, Williams & Teasdale, 2012). And it turns out we don’t need majestic backdrops, even a simple mundane task will do. So, we invite you to try bringing mindful attention to one task or moment throughout your day (i.e., washing the dishes, observing the sun on your face) and notice if and how it changes the task itself.
Davis, D. M. & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy (48), 198-208.
Segal, Z., Williams, J., & Teasdale, J. (2012). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression. New York: Guilford Press.